On TV, we see these great commercials depicting wonderful holiday gatherings. Like a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma and grandpa hold court while all the children and grandchildren gather around the table preceded by a merry choreographed routine in the kitchen where all the beautiful meals are being prepared using trusted ages old recipes. The family camaraderie and love is so evident you wish this was your family. Yes, I said wish it was your family because your family is anything but this. At times, lets just say if your family was compared to a painting it would be more like the Scream!
The holidays are fast approaching and you are dreading having to go to certain family gatherings. Maybe you are a wife whose husband’s family is not to welcoming and your mother-in-law is of the meddling variety. You just know she is going to inquisition you about something. Or you are the son whose uncle is known to get drunk and let off on every and any one. Maybe you are the daughter that finally got away and started your own family and you dread coming home and having your children exposed to your foul mouthed aunt who never married and is a veritable curmudgeon. Whatever the reason, many of us have these toxic relatives that we do not see all year round except during the holidays when we are obligated to attend. Or maybe it is just that you did not have a particularly wonderful childhood. Maybe your memories of holidays involved divorce, poverty or even death. It is fair to say that not everyone is excited to go home for the holidays!
So what can you do to cope through this time? Other than fast forwarding the days to January 2, how can you make it through the holidays with little to no stress? The first thing you should do is think about just how much you need to participate in all the events planned. Are there any expectations of you? Such as, are you expected to bring a certain dish to Christmas dinner? Are you required to go to a certain home? Are there traditions that has been done that typically bring you stress and you really don’t see the need to do it, but your family insist you must? Well, take the time to list the reasons why you should or shouldn’t do any of it. Remember you have a choice EVEN if your family makes it seem like it is wholly your responsibility. Let the evaluation of these reasons determine what you will do, what you can change and what you won’t do. And yes, there will be people who will be upset that you have either changed the “tradition” or chosen not to do it and yes they will be upset, but rationalize it this way. Can you accept some people getting upset and getting over it, instead of you agonizing over something that brings you much stress? You can always choose to offer them an alternative that you can feel good about and let them know you are not callous about not performing your expected duty, but you just need to do certain things the way that you too can feel comfortable with. Let them know things have changed FOR YOU and you are no longer comfortable doing it that way or even at all. Some may not even mind that you have made a change or substitute especially if it is something new and exciting.
In the case of the unhappy memories you may harbor at holiday time, take some time to think ahead on how to work on associating different memories with the holidays. Decide that you don’t have to associate the old and past with the present. Become aware of what is going on now and maybe even the new people that have joined the family, and don’t worry about how things should have been and be an active participant on how it can be now. You may try to plan on telling some positive stories of people who may now be gone. Storytelling is always a great way to bring up some great memories at the same time further bonding family members. If your stress stems from toxic family members, be realistic. Do not expect that the holiday will be the time they have a breakthrough and decide that they need to apologize and be more positive. Do not focus on them and their behavior. Focus more on yourself and how you will avoid getting tangled up in their drama. Make a conscious decision not to be dragged into any conflict by simply not participating. Finally, if all else fails, plan on spending as little time as possible in that environment. It maybe that you can take a couple of hours or a couple of days of these events, but staying longer would further compound your stress and discomfort. We all have a role to play in our family dynamics and to enjoy some aspects of it may leave us exposed to other not so savory situations.
The holidays are about giving, sharing, love and yes forgiveness but understanding that not everyone is on the same page at this time, and the first step to inoculating yourself from JOY stealing stress is to know at the end of it all, you do have a choice!
Peace & Light
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