‘Tis the season for taking deep breaths and venting to friends. That’s right, it’s the holidays and this may mean sepending more time with people we are not sure how we — or our partner — are related to. It’s easy to make jokes about it from the outside but when you are in the middle of it, stuck at the table or in a home with the family members who drive you insane, it can be…. miserable. Each year we promise ourselves next year will be different: we won’t stay as long for dinner, we’ll sleep at a hotel instead, we won’t let the passive aggressive comments bother us… but inevitably it tends to work out the same way as it did the year before.
So, let’s talk about ways to make time with family members who we struggle with more manageable.
Have realistic expectations
This is key. If your mother is queen of passive aggressive comments, then expect her to make passive aggressive comments. You can even make a game out of it with your partner if you want to. Bet on how many passive aggressive comments will be made that night and the winner gets a silly gift. If your mother-in-law likes to point out what you “should” do differently, expect her to. Put 1€ in a jar every time she says the word “should” and go out with a girlfriend after the holidays with the money you collect (even if it is your money, the focus is on keeping track). Enjoy the night and laugh about the things you “should” change. We get so caught up in believing people should change for us or that this will be the year we confront them that we work ourselves up into a tizzy. Making a game out of what we dread can actually make it manageable… It is like trying to get a kid to clean her or his room by setting a timer or giving them a reward for completing the task. This method works for adults too! Whatever it is you are dreading, try to find a way to make it fun/funny. Bonus points if your partner is in on it too!
Setting boundaries can be challenging if you are stuck in a cabin in the mountains with no place to go and everyone sleeping in the same house. You may have to get creative. Let’s say you are just visiting family and you know you have a few hours that you will be with the particular family member(s) that bother you. Take breaks in between by going to the bathroom, walking into the kitchen to get water, getting something from your bag or purse (lipstick/lip gloss is a great excuse)… And here is the key part: when you step away, take deep breaths, refocus yourself on the fact that there is a time limit to this visit though it seems endless and, again, give yourself a positive activity to look foward to (fun date with the girlfriends to compare stories after the holiday, a pre-booked massage, a bubble bath that night). If you are staying in the same home for a period of time, use the least popular rooms of the house. Bring a book that you have been “dying to finally read,” go for walks in the area -even if you just walk in circles in the neigborhood so you don’t get lost-, or if you know the surroundings make plans to go and do things outside of the home by yourself. Problems occur when we feel trapped. Give yourself options — even creative ones — and you may find that you can handle situations better.
Don’t forget self-care
Holidays can be stressful by nature and then we add family on top. Sometimes it can feel like we need a vacation from the vacation time! Plan ahead some positive self-care activities you can do during the holiday. Some form of exercise is always a good way to decrease the stress that comes with answering the same question for the 20th time. Take a moment to focus on deep breathing and positive affirmations — “I will get through this. I’m not the crazy one here. I am amazing no matter what I “should” be doing.” Journaling your frustrations with paper and pen or texting them to a friend who is a positive support can protect you from the build up that can occur when you think you have no outlets or don’t feel listened to. At the end of the day, you are responsible for taking care of you and you know what helps you relax and calm down. Find ways to incorporate that during the time you are around the family members. I will add that drinking alcohol, though it can help you relax, isn’t the best answer in these situations if you go too far. Drinking can make us more emotional, at times even aggressive, and… aren’t we trying to decrease the level of crazy during these visits? Remember, moderation is key. Same with eating our emotions… but let’s make this simple and focus on alcohol moderation. Baby steps, people.
Keep in mind your final goal
Overall, you know you’ll likely be offended, frustrated, and potentially hurt at some point. In reality, a lot of the underlying emotion you feel with challenging family members may be consequence of sadness because they do not accept you the way you would like, you don’t have the relationship you hope for, or you don’t feel respected. No matter what the underlying issue, your goal should be to enjoy the holidays and leave visits with challenging family members feeling like you made it versus barely survived. So, make a game of the things you know to expect, create physical boundaries in creative ways, and take care of you because if you don’t -you already know what I am going to write- no one else will.
Katie Rössler is a licensed professional counselor turned SAHM from the States. She is mom to two little girls that keep her catching colds and getting very little sleep but are just too cute to stay mad at. Prior to cleaning up her kids’ diapers, she ran a successful private practice and enjoyed going to concerts and eating sushi in peace. Nowadays, she is a cooking, cleaning, bullet journaling, yoga doing, smoothie making, SAHM-ing rock star.