With Thanksgiving just behind us, we are well into holiday season. As many of us were recently surrounded by family, we are thinking about how to get through the rest of these upcoming gatherings unscathed. It is truly magical how as young adults and even full grown adults we can walk into our parents home and suddenly we are fourteen again. How’s that for time travel?
For the majority of the year, we are consumed with creating the life we want, focusing on our careers, friendships, love lives and social outings. Aside from a few rough patches here and there, we generally think of ourselves as mature and functional adults. However, much of that goes by the wayside when we come face to face with the people and surroundings that molded us into the individuals we are today. Suddenly, we have picked up right where we left off; resuming the same role in our family as we did in adolescence, arguing over the same issues with our parents and siblings, and of course, resorting to the same old coping mechanisms and habits that we were so sure we left behind once we moved out.
It never ceases to amaze me how prominent this topic of conversation is not only in my professional life, but also in my personal life. For some it is dreading the helicopter mom who prods for all the details, for others it’s avoiding getting sucked into the screw up sibling’s latest saga and for others it’s a struggle to achieve that delicate balance of parental validation and independence. Regardless of what flavor your family cocktail is, here are five pointers to guide you through!
- Worry about the things you can control
Research has shown that we spend more time worrying about issues we can’t control than those we can. Family is one issue we can’t control. This is one instance when I actually tell my clients to give up hope! You may have changed and grown and gained insight through life experience, therapy, cultivating positive friendships, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean the rest of the fam will follow. It is OK to give up hope that this holiday they will act differently, treat you differently or finally compliment your cooking because that is out of our control. Your time is better spent worrying about what YOU can control, such as your reactions, creating space for yourself, and judgments against yourself for acting like that wonderfully pleasant 14 year-old.
- Know your limits & set boundaries
One magical part of family time during the holidays is that it usually includes multiple days of spending time together ALL DAY! Be mindful of your limits and don’t be afraid to set some boundaries. For example, be aware of how much time together is too much time. Instead of exploding at another comment criticizing your eating habits or queries about a boyfriend, allow yourself to step out for some space. Another piece of setting boundaries is saying “no.” While you don’t want to create an uproar that you have finally found your voice all these years later, you can protect yourself from having to hold onto frustration and resentment by saying no.
- Be an observer of your family
Do you ever notice that when you’re visiting your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend’s family you can remain relatively objective even when your significant other is writhing with emotions? That’s because you are observing what’s going on. Now this is much easier said than done because most of us will become emotionally invested or attached to someone or something that is going on at the dinner table. However, if you can imagine that this is not YOUR family, but rather someone else’s, it makes it much easier to act like an observing visitor and thus more like that mature, functional adult you were before you walked in the door.
- Don’t leave the toolbox at the door!
For most of us, there has been some sort of process through which we developed healthy coping mechanisms in our adult lives; it may be writing, meditation, exercise, listening to music or going for a drive. Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Whatever calms you and grounds you will likely be a useful tool when coping with stress, arguments, guilt or any other special gift from your loved ones.
- Cut yourself some slack
Lastly and most importantly, cut yourself some slack! Just because you are a calm and even-keeled person who has fallen into knee-jerk reactions with their family does NOT mean you have gone back ten steps or you are a failure. Be prepared to laugh at yourself and your family for being the same people that you know and love. Although spending the holidays with your family may not give you much peace, gratitude for their love, in its various forms, should give you a little joy.
Happy holidays and please feel free to leave comments and feedback!