As we prepare for visits with loved ones this holiday season, you may be filled with excitement at being reunited with family you haven’t seen in a while. Many of you may also be feeling anxiety: perhaps you have rocky relationships with certain family members or you are simply stressed about hosting relatives over the holidays. For some of you, the holidays may be filled with both joyous and nervous anticipation.
It is important to remember that each family member carries something that is unique and relevant to the whole. As a result, each family member’s expectations may influence his or her perceptions. Thus, with a pinch of gratitude, a dash of empathy, and a heaping helping of compassion, you will find that home is where the heart is.
Here are some tips that can help your holiday experience reuniting with family members be a happy one.
- Be tolerant and flexible in how you perceive your family members. Remember the perfect family does not exist…even on TV.
- Have a plan that contains the ground rules for holiday fun. For example, if you are the hostess of a holiday gathering, you should communicate to all guests ahead of time that your home is a “safe zone,” a place for fun and family but not for resurrecting painful issues, squabbles, or historical injuries. Meet your guests at the threshold of your doorway and remind them once they cross into your house all family problems must be left behind. As the song goes: “Grab your coat and grab your hat, leave your troubles on your doorstep.”
- Delegate. As the hostess, it is essential to recognize that you cannot do it all by yourself. There’s an unspoken rule in psychology, that if you let others do things for you, they will like you more, because they feel invested. So, feel free to ask for help in the kitchen and let a cousin, aunt, or grandparent bring his or her favorite dish to dinner. This also gives him or her a chance to receive both attention and compliments for his or her contribution.
- Take a time-out. Whether you are visiting a relative’s home for the holidays or you are entertaining, remember to take time out for yourself. If you are arriving at someone’s home, take 30 minutes before engaging socially, by meditating, having a warm bath, drinking a hot cup of tea, or just closing your eyes for a few minutes. If you are tired, you feel more fragile. And, tired and fragile people often make mistakes, get cranky, and become magnets for trouble. If you are the hostess, the same rules apply. Take time out for yourself before guests arrive, so that you can manage your stress and have the energy necessary for socializing.
- Reduce alcohol intake. When confronted with family, resist the temptation to drink alcohol in order to calm your nerves. On the contrary, too much alcohol will reduce your inhibitions and allow you to say and do something you may be sorry for.
- Resist acting out for approval. Instead of making you feel better, or more successful, competitive-bragging only makes you feel diminished and demeaned.
- Postpone business talks and intimate questions. Just because someone asks you something, doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything. Practice and rehearse ahead of time simple phrases, such as, “Let’s talk about it next week when we’re not with the family,” or “I’ll call you later and we can chat about it.” Remember it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
- Be tolerant. Give your relatives the benefit of the doubt. Remember, when families come together, they often have unrealistic goals for one another and may try to recreate childhood fantasies. This can cause regressive and childish behavior. So step back, breath-in and give him or her the benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t ambush family members with your problems. Holiday get-togethers should be the one time you can get together and suspend all problems and judgments.
- Make it easy on yourself. Less time in the kitchen affords you more time to feel the love that only family get-togethers can bring. Without any extra financial expenditure, you can buy foods that are pre-made or found on a shelf. Many stores now offer complete holiday meals, from the appetizers to the main course to dessert. Make only what you enjoy, and simply purchase the rest.
In the end, it is your time together that counts. Go easy on yourself – and on your guests – and enjoy your family time this holiday season.