5 ideas for navigating your family gatherings during the holidays

Stock image courtesy of St. George Health & Wellness Magazine, St. George News

FEATURE — The holidays are often a “hot-button” time for families. This is true now more than ever. Religious and political differences, long-standing family squabbles and disagreements about the location of the Christmas festivities can increase family stress.

Stock image courtesy of St. George Health & Wellness Magazine, St. George News

Adult children have ideas that often differ from their parents and grandparents, and dividing time between family members and friends can be onerous and may even spoil the Christmas spirit. In order to navigate through all of this, consider using the following five holiday hacks.

Keep advice to yourself unless you are specifically asked for it.

This recommendation holds true for family members of all ages: grandparents, parents, adult children and everyone else. What would it be like if everyone took a break from their attempts to change each other and instead used their energy to get to know each other better? Set a goal to learn two new things about everyone that is involved in your holiday celebrations.

Give up all attempts to control others and instead, commit to respond positively in all circumstances.

If you catch yourself making a list of things that you want your mother to understand or your daughter to change, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Remember, any attempt you make to control other people puts you directly under their control. If you have decided that your brother must learn the importance of vaccinations or your father has to stop giving unsolicited advice, then these two men in your life will have control of your mood.

By allowing them the freedom to do whatever they choose to do, your peace of mind will not be tethered to their actions. You can just smile and allow them to think anything they wish. Whatever the circumstance, you can control only your own thoughts and actions. Respond well, and let go of your need to control.

Manage your own expectations.

Stock image courtesy of St. George Health & Wellness Magazine, St. George News

Before the holidays are in full swing, take the time to think about who you are planning to spend time with and what you are planning to do with them. Who will you eat Thanksgiving dinner with? Who will you shop with, play with, talk to and be around throughout the holiday season? Decide now that you will not expect them to be different than they have always been.

Let go of the desires you have for them to change so that you will feel more comfortable with them. Instead, consider their redeeming qualities. What is it you can appreciate about these individuals?

If your brother has always competed with you and tossed passive-aggressive insults your way, be prepared for this to happen again rather than hope he has “grown up.” Respond by joking with him or excusing yourself and walking away. You will not feel disappointed or frustrated if you have no expectation that he has changed.

Manage your logistics in a way that you maximize time with people that you truly relax around and minimize time with toxic family members, friends and acquaintances.

This may require you to get a hotel room for your family so you have some time to regroup and rejoin the activities. If there isn’t room in your budget for a hotel, choose wisely in advance who you will stay with or who you will invite to stay with you. Always have your own mode of transportation. Make every attempt to not feel trapped.

Begin all interactions, especially holiday interactions, by having empathy.

No matter who you are going to interact with, no matter how toxic you believe they are, start all interactions with a commitment to see them with empathy. Put your views on hold, and walk in their shoes. While you may limit time with toxic family members, you can still extend yourself to them if you have honed the skill of empathic listening.

Often, toxic people need compassion the most. I would never suggest that you write them off; I do suggest that you are mindful and accepting and that you try to see the world through their eyes as you interact with them.

Above all, enjoy your holidays. Be a solution to stressful situations by bringing joy, peace, harmony and spirituality into your family circles. Be your best self while seeing everyone through a lens of empathy as you move through your holiday plans.

Written by MATT ESCHLER, PhD, LMFT. 

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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