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Can you feel it? There’s been a palpable change in the air…it’s almost as though you can tangibly feel the holiday excitement. With growing to-do lists, and plans still taking shape, it takes conscious effort not to get swept in the frenzy of holiday stress. And, if you are like most people you may feel that regardless of the amount of time you put into your holiday preparations, there is one thing that can still attempt to derail your holiday celebrations…family. Regardless of how easily our families get along, sometimes different personalities get the best of us making the holidays feel unpredictable and stressful.
Maybe you too can recognize a few of these relatives?
- One-upper– The one-uppers seem compelled to top any and all stories they hear. They are quick to share their story that is a “one better” to whatever anyone else shares. When Aunt Martha shares that she finally made it to that Broadway show she’s wanted to go to her entire life, the one-upper quickly shares that they not only went to the same play, but they had front row seats, a back stage tour, and met several cast members.
- It’s all about me – Every roads lead to the “all about me” relatives. There’s no mistaking when they arrive because the so boldly announce their presence. They’re famous for hijacking conversation both in content and volume.
- The Gossip– Unlike the “it’s all about me” relatives, with these family members, it’s all about everyone else. They long to share everyone else’s news whether it’s appropriate or not.
- The boundary-less– Your business is their business. They pry, they prod, and they push. “You look tired, is everything alright?” Their endless badgering wears you down until you share something you really weren’t planning to share with them. They have no respect for boundaries, so you need to be aware of yours.
- The Stone-wall – You try to share, to include, to connect, but to no avail. You were looking forward to seeing this once-favorite cousin. You were once so close. But this year, although they may be sitting next to you at the table, they feel miles away.
You can’t change your family, so what can you do?
- Review your expectations
It’s easy to look at the image of a Norman Rockwell painting and wish that for your family holiday dinner. But, if your family doesn’t have a history of having picturesque meals, adjust your expectations to something more in line with your family. Focus on genuine connections which may be easier individually or in small groups rather than feeling like you need to manage your entire group all at once. Allow yourself to celebrate whatever unfolds.
- Check your bags at the door
If you are carrying around with memories and past hurts, don’t bring your baggage along to your holiday celebration. When you start the holidays with a shorter fuse because of past hurts and unresolved issues, you’re setting yourself up for a less than joyous celebration. If needed take time to jot down or journal those “things” that are bubbling up. Talk to a friend or a counselor. Evaluate what you are holding on to and begin to explore forgiveness so that you can let go of that baggage once and for all. Any pain you hold on to only hurts you, not the person who hurt you in the first place.
- Choose to find the good
At your family celebrations, look for at least one good thing about everyone you celebrate with, even the family member whom you find most challenging. You’ll be amazed how consciously doing this will shift how you look at your gathering.
- Remember, it’s not about you
Should family members become challenging, remember it’s not about you. Most challenging personality types are difficult out of their own insecurities, fear, or hurts. A positive comment can often reassure them and ease their fears. Give them a warm welcome when they show up “I’m so glad you could join us today” or “it’s so good to see you.” or “You must be so proud that…” or ask a question about how their year is going. A little reassurance can go a long way.
- Engage, listen, but most importantly, choose wisely
People are often loud or hijack conversations because they have a need to connect or be heard. Deliberately connect and engage in conversations. Ask them how they’re doing and be present in the conversation. Avoid the temptation to plan your sale shopping while you are mid conversation. Choose your topics carefully. If you know you don’t see eye to eye with your Uncle Matt on politics, don’t bring up politics across the Thanksgiving table. And, if someone else brings up the taboo topic, be ready to redirect and say “this is a politics free zone” or whatever the sticky topic might be. You don’t have to go to every argument you are invited to.
- Have a plan
Depending on how challenging your family may be for you, it may make sense to have a plan to keep yourself emotionally and physically in a good and safe place. Know when you’ve had enough and need to remove yourself from a conversation, retreat to a different room, and recognize when it’s time to head home.
- Remember why you are celebrating!
No matter how challenging your family may be at times, don’t lose sight of why you are gathering and why you are celebrating. The holidays are meant to celebrate and be with those you care about the most. Visit, laugh, enjoy!
What’s your favorite holiday tradition? What’s one way you keep your stress or difficult situations in check? I’d love to hear from you!
Be sure to check back for my next blog in the coming days “Tips for Surviving the Holidays Minus One – Coping Holiday Grief.”