Dealing with Dysfunctional Family Holidays

h4h_bannerI’m writing with care and consideration about a topic that is a super vulnerable hot spot for me: going home for the holidays.

Spending time with my family is important to me because I live on the west coast while they’re on the east coast. Our time together is limited and therefore precious to me. Perhaps because of that or because my family tends to be very sentimental, the pressure to have a “perfect” holiday is like pressure-cooking those tamales on Christmas Eve. It MUST be perfect and if things don’t go as planned; all is lost to the woooooooorld…

Okay, I may be exaggerating but honestly, that’s the feeling. Not so much fun for me, especially when my values of being authentic, having flexibility, and communicating openly seem be stomped on. Oh, and it doesn’t make me want to go home for the holidays either. Thankfully coaching and the wisdom of my friends have been tremendously helpful in HOW I am with my family during the holidays.

Here are 5 approaches that very well may be helpful for you!

  1. Accept the fact that you cannot control ANYTHING about your family.
    If you have a hope that this year may be different, you’re probably setting yourself up for immediate disappointment. Acknowledge that your family is dysfunctional and that you have a hard time in that setting. This acceptance allows you to be authentic and allows you to accept them for all of their imperfections as well.
  2. Choose how you see your family.
    How you view things is truly a choice. In the moment it can be hard to see that choice so take a moment now to see what lens you view your family with. Is that perspective full of dread, anger, and fear of being judged? Whatever that perspective is, ask yourself to view it with another lens. What would it look like if you took a step back and saw the bigger picture? What about at the macro level? One of my favorite phrases is WWJD, or “what would Jesus do?” I sometimes substitute Jesus for the Dalai Lama or Brene Brown so whatever works for you, use it! The point of seeing your family with a different lens reminds you that you have a choice on how you see and react to it. There is always choice, and with this practice, you are simply providing yourself options with how to see it.
  3. Ask for Support.
    You know you’re going home for the holidays and you’ve shared it with your partner and/or friends who also lament about their own families. Take this a step further and ask two to three people to be your support peeps. These are people that you can reach out to during the time you are with your family. Ask them ahead of time if they are willing and available to be your support. Agree on how you define support and how you need them. Is it to be available for you to call/email/text? Is it to listen? Is it to offer words of encouragement and love? Is it to remind you of tips 1-5? Whatever it is, just having those people designated ahead of time reinforces that you are not alone and you are loved!
  4. Have Fun.
    Ask yourself how you want to have fun with your family and then start with your own bright spots of how you’ve had fun with them in the past. Plan on a game, a family movie, sledding, or a walk out in the neighborhood. Whatever “fun” is for you, create those opportunities and see what happens. My family plays cards, board games, agrees on a fun action movie to go to, or we make time for a family walk. Remember that you can decide ahead of time that you want to have fun. What does that mean for you? Is it playing certain holiday music, cooking something, taking photos of what’s around you? Your decision to have fun definitely does not change your family but it sure can change your experience.
  5. Share your Stories.
    One of the best ways I cope with my family is by capturing what happens in the chaotic psychosis with stories. I’m lucky because honestly, my family is hilarious. Start with the intention to mentally “step outside of the action” to listen and observe. Then, after you return from the holidays, share your stories with a friend or a trusted family member who was there with you (a brother or sister who you are closest with – sharing your perspective over the “crazy dinner” is some of the best ways to laugh about it). By sharing that heated dinner conversation involving healthcare, Jesus, Obama, and Miley Cyrus, it allows you to share what was hard for you, lets you see the moment for what it was, and allows you to let go of it. Acknowledge it and move on to gratitude which is much more fulfilling.

The point of these approaches is to allow you the opportunity to love your family. For me, what I want more than anything is to NOT shut down when I’m having a hard time (holiday time with family). Shutting down is the worst and makes me an unpredictable badger. So these approaches help me love my family in my own way, laugh with them, learn from them, and have moments of connection.

home-for-the-holidaysHave other ways to approach dealing with your dysfunctional family during the holidays? Please share!

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with Dysfunctional Family Holidays

  1. This is good for any family visit, not just over the holidays! I especially like and will use #2. Thanks! Angela

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  2. Tanya Beat, thank you for these insightful steps. Your timing is perfect, as I am in fact, home for the holidays and at the moment hiding in my bedroom with the door locked counting down the days until I can leave. Time for me to evaluate my situation, remind myself that I can’t change them, try to enjoy the good moments and shake off the not so good. Also, might be a good time to reach out to a life line!
    Thx. E

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