The holiday season is upon us. We've just finished Thanksgiving, and are entering the whirlwind of Christmas. This is "the most wonderful time of the year," according to one famous Christmas song. Another song lauds the importance of being "home for the holidays."It doesn't take long to realize that one of the most cherished parts of this season is time spent with family. We look forward to family togetherness and memories. We all know that family interactions can be the highlight of the season, and can also easily become strained as tensions and expectations run high.
How can you make time spent with family as enjoyable as possible this year?
To start off, if you spent time with family for Thanksgiving, reflect on your Thanksgiving interactions. What was most meaningful? What do you wish went differently? And how can you use that information to make decisions about family interactions throughout the rest of this holiday season?Families operate well when there is a good balance of togetherness and personal autonomy. This means having good boundaries, clear communication, and awareness and respect for other family members' needs.
6 Tips to Enjoy Time With Your Family this Holiday Season:
- Make expectations clear. This goes for gift-giving, time spent together, desired activities, etc. For example, if you want to bake Christmas cookies with your aunt, make sure you let her know. Don't expect that just because you did this together last year, she'll know you want to bake cookies again. Also, if you won't be with family for the holidays, reach out to friends and ask to join them for holiday festivities. Don't expect them to know what you need unless you communicate it. In both cases, this will circumvent hurt feelings and resentment.
- Communicate your needs and wants clearly. For example, "I would like to have some down time today. I will be more rested and able to participate in time as a family if I skip the movie outing, then join you afterwards to see the Christmas lights." This goes a lot further than, "You're always scheduling too many things for us to do!" Here's another example of combining clear expectations and clear communication: "I enjoy time with your parents, but I feel drained after two weeks of non-stop interaction. Could we find a way for you to have enough time with them and for me to have some down time?"
- Communicate with the relevant person. Often when we get frustrated, we form "triangles" and speak to or through a third person rather than communicating directly with the relevant person. For example, a child may see her parents arguing or refusing to talk to one another and attempt to be the go-between to get her parents to communicate effectively with one another. It's okay to get support from a third person occasionally, as long as this doesn't become the pattern of communication. You may need to get support from a friend before you can resolve an issue with a spouse, sibling, or parent, but make sure it's an appropriate person (i.e. not your child) and it does not become the norm.
- Be realistic. It is easy for nostalgia for certain traditions to become unexpressed expectations for the current season. Be realistic about how much you can do and what others around you want to do and are capable of doing. For example, if your child gets sensory overload with a huge crowd, don't expect him to come to a large family gathering and do well. Make plans that allow him, and thus you, to have a good time.
- Proactively make plans to address toxic relationships. Some family members may not be ready to join you in clear communication and may continue unhealthy and hurtful patterns. In those cases, find ways to have good boundaries with this person, get support for yourself, and when possible limit your interaction with them. Find a neutral person in your support system or see a counselor for a few sessions to plan for and then process these interactions. My favorite book to understand relationships with Emotionally-Immature People is Recovering from Emotionally-Immature Parents: Practical Tools to Establish Boundaries & Reclaim Your Emotional Autonomy. It focuses on parents, but talks about all types of relationships. If this is your situation, I'd love to help you process and prepare for how to handle these relationships.
- Put down the electronics and enjoy some quality time together. This may be harder said than done. Don't let it ruin your time together if it doesn't happen as much as you like - remember to be realistic! But as far as you are able, make being present with one another part of your present to each other.