Family Stress at the Holidays

November 15th, 2018

For most of us, the next six weeks or so will include at least one family get-together. For some, family will gather no less than three times and depending on the person and his or her history, the very thought of these festivities evokes a wide range of emotions, from joy to outright dread.

There could be any number of reasons for negative feelings about these holiday gatherings. Maybe you and another family member come down on opposite ends of the political spectrum and you know they will make an attempt to debate you. Perhaps some members of your family continue to treat you as they did when you were a child despite the fact that you have changed fundamentally since then. Or maybe you are in a difficult spot financially and you know someone will ask probing questions about your situation.

The reality is our emotions are seldom straightforward in these types of situations. Instead, we usually experience a mixture of feelings. For example, you may look forward to seeing some members of the family, while wishing others would decide not to attend. Despite not wanting to see a certain family member, you may feel a rush of nostalgia at entering your parents’ home and smelling all the familiar aromas. And even in your hurt, you might dearly wish for a resolution to the conflict that makes your time together less than perfect.

So as the holidays approach, what can you do to prepare for the stress you might experience? Is there anything you can do so that, no matter how others behave, you can come through New Year's feeling refreshed rather than drained by your time with family?

Lift it up. It’s helpful to pray specifically about the interactions you expect to have. It’s easy to forget that God created you and the family to which you belong. He is even better acquainted with the dynamics than you are!

Plan ahead. You can think through the likely conversations, jabs, and questions that might set you off and make a plan for how you will respond. That way you can kindly redirect or defuse the conversation instead of reacting defensively.

Walk in their shoes. You can think objectively about those who make these gatherings difficult and consider what insecurities and stresses he or she might also bring to the table. Perhaps what your uncle or sister needs is encouragement and your help directing the conversation somewhere life-giving. It sounds like a cliche to say, “Be the bigger person,” but there is a reason it became a cliche.

Keep perspective. Remember this is only once (or a few times) a year. You get to live the rest of your life mostly on your own terms. Try to keep the focus on what really matters for this small window of time you spend with your family.

Remember what it's all about. Do your best to focus on the significance of the holidays themselves. Thanksgiving is a special day for gratitude; Christmas, a celebration of God’s love incarnate; New Years, a chance for a fresh start. This is a great time to reflect on the meaning of each day and practice the creation of memories you and others will come to cherish.

Whether you are ready or not, the holidays are just around the corner. Conflicts are bound to happen but the reality is, our family units are a great school for loving as close to unconditionally as is humanly possible. We hope you have a chance to show that kind of care this holiday season. From all of us at Liberty HealthShare, happy holidays.