Rockwell or Rocky?

Dec 15, 2022 | Friends and Home Life

6 Ways to Survive Family Gatherings this Holiday Season

Greeting card moment: a big happy family relaxes, laughs, enjoys every moment together in front of a roaring fireplace, and takes lots of pictures to commemorate the perfection of their family.
Reality: family gatherings can be stressful and bring up old resentments, and there is often times at least one relative who makes things challenging.
Sometimes it may sound more enjoyable to poke pine boughs in your eyes than gather ‘round the hearth with family members, especially if there is a history of angst and ill will.  Here’s the good news: you don’t have to fall back into the same routines and roles this year.  You can change how you handle holiday events with relatives and take care of yourself in the process.

Here are six things to try to help maintain your peace of mind when getting together with family:

  1. Leave the past in the past. Regardless of what has happened in your relationship with family members or how past holidays have gone with them, try to focus on the present. Holding on to resentment and hurt feelings only fuels the fire inside of you and leads to more bad feelings before you even start.
  2. Don’t set expectations for others. Focus on you and how you will take care of yourself during family gatherings.  Decide ahead of time to hold your head high and interact with kindness.
  3. Don’t give gifts out of obligation, and don’t withhold out of resentment. Give gifts to the people you truly want to give gifts to, and don’t hold back just because someone did not get you a gift or get you the gift you wanted last year.  Gifts should come from a real desire to give, with no expectation of return or reward.
  4. Avoid alcohol fueled gatherings, especially if there is someone who drinks too much or says inappropriate or hurtful things when drinking. If you do have heavy drinkers in your family, try to schedule visits early in the day so you can be in and out before the drinking begins.  If you choose to drink at family gatherings, limit yourself to one or two.  Alcohol is a depressant and lowers inhibitions, and after a few drinks it is easy to slip into old memories and habits and say things you either don’t mean or that should be said at a different time.
  5. When you are with relatives, don’t ignore people who have hurt you in the past. Ignoring someone continues to give them power over you. The more you change yourself to avoid or accommodate others, the more of yourself you give away.  Work on being polite and kind, and keep your encounters brief so they don’t have a chance to go sour.
  6. Have a way out. If you will be at a relative’s house, drive yourself so you can leave if you need to.  Don’t feel pressured to stay longer than you want to. Politely thank your hosts and tell them you need to get going.

The holidays can fuel all kinds of past hurts and resentments, but you have the power to change your outlook and behavior.  Instead of allowing yourself to slip into the past and expect the worst, decide ahead of time what you can do to be emotionally healthy during family gatherings.  Oftentimes each member in a family seems to have a role to play.  Just because that is how it has always been, that doesn’t mean it has to continue.  You don’t need to buy into pressure or guilt to do things the way they have always been done.  Change is hard.  Change when it involves family members who know how to push your buttons is even harder, but it is possible.  It begins with a decision to take care of yourself and interact with kindness. Change begins with you.  You can do it!


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