With the holidays just around the corner – Chanukah begins next week, Christmas and Kwanzaa the week after – are you planning to spend some time celebrating with relatives? Now is the time to take a look at your family dynamics and plan ahead to avoid a meltdown during your get together. Often present-day arguments reflect childhood conflicts over power, competition or favoritism. In today’s environment, politics, too, can cause a serious disruption in family harmony.
If your family has a history of dwelling on unfinished business or expressions of hotheaded sibling rivalry, here are some precautions you can take before you get together:
Tone down your expectations. If you’re celebrations often get testy, don’t expect that this one will be significantly different. Relatives who are used to pushing everyone’s buttons can create dysfunctional dynamics that challenge the congenial atmosphere of your party. When you anticipate the tone of the gathering more realistically, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience, whatever the outcome.
Identify potential mischief-makers before the holiday and talk with them to address any areas of resentment. You may be able to defuse possible triggers in advance of their acting out. Resist taking sides if conflicts do surface between others. Instead of being drawn into the argument, walk away from the confrontation and turn the others toward a positive connection.
Take care of yourself to minimize your stress level going into the get-together. Be aware of your limits as you pay attention to what is causing you the most tension – holiday expenses, a long to-do list, time pressures, responsibilities to complete end-of-year projects. Then consider what you can do to relieve those particular stresses by addressing them directly. You’ll be in a better frame of mind to enjoy the coming commotion of family festivities.
Have an exit strategy in place to use if the family celebration becomes too stressful. Maybe sharing holiday time with friends later that evening will be more joyous and less tense for you. Or plan to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen for part of the day. That will turn your focus outward and increase your gratitude for all that you have.
When you prepare, the holidays can be a time for healing family discord and expressing the deep connections you have with each other. Make a commitment to communicate the gratitude you feel for having these relationships in your life and value the underlying love that is a part of it. As you share the celebration, you can begin your list of New Year’s resolutions by focusing on the positives of family bonds.