The holidays can be a time of joy, fun and treasured memories. Although time with family and friends brings smiles and laughter, it can often heighten the potential for stress, conflict, heated discussions and hurt feelings. Whether it’s a heated political conversation or just that person who can be difficult, emotions can run all over the place. What is it about family gatherings that leads people to think they can voice all of their opinions on hot topics like they’re on an episode of The View?
In addition to enduring passionate discussions, many families have a person or two who bring their own emotional health challenges or unhealthy coping patterns to the table. This can cause strain among family members and can often be overwhelming. There may be interactions or behaviors that you wish your children would not witness and hope that you do not need to later explain. Unfortunately, this can be unavoidable, and you might want to prepare by coming up with a game plan before the gathering.
So, if you can’t avoid the dysfunction, what can you do to strive for the best possible outcome of a beautiful holiday gathering? The following is a list of helpful reminders that can hopefully help your holiday plans run a little more smoothly.
1. Remember what you can control and what you cannot control: Basically, you can only control your own words, actions and beliefs. Choose your battles! You can’t make Uncle Bob agree with your opinion on who should be the next president any more than you can make Aunt Bethany’s Jello mold suddenly taste good. Once you let go of the things that you cannot control, you will find a freedom from anxiety that can help with enjoyment of the celebration.
2. Choose and set your boundaries: If needed, put a time limit on the festivities or request that everyone leave by a certain time. It’s perfectly acceptable to request that certain topics, such as politics or opinions on the healthcare system be off-limits for the day. Communicate your desires to all involved and ask that mutual respect be the theme of the day. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
3. Create a signal: Coordinate with your spouse, partner or a trusted ally and create a secret signal that can alert the other when you feel overwhelmed and need a break. Your self-care is important and it is not selfish to remove yourself from drama.
4. Prepare topics ahead of time: Create a playlist of neutral topics to discuss and quickly change the subject if things get heated. Be creative and fun with what you might add to the list! You could also play a fun game during dinner in order to support a fun and joyful ambiance. Perhaps a 20 Questions or Guess Who type game. You can place post-it notes on each other’s backs labeled with the name of a famous person and ask each person to determine their identity by asking yes/no questions.
5. Remember to show compassion and grace: If we’re talking about Christmas, the whole reason that we are gathering is because of God’s sacrifice and compassion that he showed to his people by sending Jesus to earth. As Christians, we should show the same compassion and grace to others, even the ones who can be a little difficult to be around.
As you gather with your loved ones, remember that everyone is fighting their own battle, some very privately. That person who drinks a little too much might be soothing their ow n depression. The loud cousin who always crosses the line might be using the only way he knows how to get attention. It’s vital to engage in your own self-care before and after the event and remember that everyone has a story behind why they are the way they are. Your support, listening ear and love toward others can go a long way in making a stressful holiday into a heartwarming day. You never know what an impact you may have on someone just by accepting them for who they are and smiling as you take in your time together.