It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But let’s face it. It’s also the most stressful, with shopping, entertaining, traveling, cooking, budget stretching, and attending parties upon parties when you’d rather be home watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with the kids. Add to that time spent with family members who know how to push all your buttons and you’ve got a situation that could make Saint Nick himself want to run for the hills. Try these tips to ameliorate some of the stress of family gatherings this holiday—and focus on enjoying your time together.
Before a Family Gathers
Do some soul searching. Are there family members you’ve offended? Why not pick up the phone, be the bigger person, and apologize? Take full responsibility for the offense without making excuses. Maybe someone has hurt your feelings. Forgiving them doesn’t make them right. But it does make you free from unproductive bitterness and anger. If you think it’s appropriate, find a time to talk to them about their behavior beforehand, especially if it’s something they do at every family gathering. They may not even realize it bothers you. (Or perhaps they’re just cranky—but at least you will have tried to handle things like an adult.)
Rest up before a family gathering. It may not be easy to do during this busy time of year, but when we’re well rested, it’s easier to be patient with difficult people and to let harsh comments roll off our backs. Make sure your kids get plenty of rest too, and take some time to speak very clearly to them about your expectations for their behavior before any problems arise.
Get your head in the right place. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Family gatherings are about loving and encouraging each other while making memories. Don’t go into a family gathering with a judgmental attitude about family members’ decisions, viewpoints, or lifestyles. It may not always be easy, but give your family members the gift of a generous heart and open mind.
Check your expectations at the door. Especially after a certain age, people are less likely to change their ways. And some relatives aren’t going to stop doing the things that annoy us just because it’s Christmas. Try to allow room for differences of opinion and ways of doing things. After all, you can handle anything for a few hours or a few days.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Family gatherings are about loving and encouraging each other while making memories.
During a Family Gathering
Cultivate a servant’s heart. Attend each family gathering with the thought of serving others. Offer to help with preparation, clean up, or entertaining the children. Look around for what needs to be done and do it cheerfully.
Avoid overly serious subjects. Christmas isn’t the time to discuss varying political or religious views, or to bring up past grievances or conflicts. Stay in the moment and enjoy the day instead.
Stand tall. Sometimes family members feel they can cross boundaries because they’re family. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and enforce boundaries—but do so in a way that’s respectful to others. Remember that in the long run you only have control over one person, and that’s yourself.
Leave if you must. If things start to feel toxic for you or your spouse, and your children allow you the flexibility of leaving without making a big scene, consider ducking out for a moment. Take a breather. Go for a walk, allow yourself time to breathe, and re-center. Staying in a situation that puts you in distress isn’t good for anyone.
Remember, for many of us, this is the only time of year we get the opportunity to reconnect with family. It’s a time for our kids to learn about our own childhoods and to forge relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Do your best to take family annoyances with a grain of salt. Just keep those famous words from Tiny Tim in mind—God bless us, every one.
By Mimi Greenwood Knight