familyThis month, the Self-Care Sunday series will focus on Fall. It’s the perfect time of year to prepare yourself mentally for the holidays. Especially if your family gatherings end up stressing you out and building resentment. In order to move towards mental wholeness, we need to learn to handle problems when they arise.

Another Holiday Dilemma

“What?” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe they invited us for Christmas this year.”

Pedro shrugged and replied, “They are family.”

“I know.” Just the thought of spending precious vacation time with family members we didn’t feel close to made me feel resentful and annoyed. But because family called, we answered.

We shivered at night in their cold house and felt hunger pangs at their strange eating hours. On the third day, we made a Costco run and stocked up on food and blankets. By the time we left, we swore to never inconvenience them with our presence again.

Going into the situation, we knew what might happen (many of our visits over the years had contained the same elements of invitation/lack of hospitality/leaving on a bad note). We could have avoided the hurt feelings if we had taken the time to communicate ahead of time.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have fallen prey to bad hostess syndrome. One time a family member and her kids visited us, and I found one of the kids sobbing in the corner of the living room. “What’s wrong?” My gentle questioning got me nowhere.

I finally talked to the mom and discovered that my young guest felt isolated by the sleeping arrangements. When I assigned rooms, I did so to give everyone a bit of privacy—not force isolation on anyone. I had used MY preferences instead of talking with my guests about what they preferred. I learned to check with guests ahead of time about sleeping arrangements, meal schedules, and entertainment.

Whacking Moles When They Pop Up

Since Pedro and I both work in education, I always felt that certain family members expected us to do the traveling. But instead of talking with them about it, I just simmered in mild resentment for years. I finally decided that I would either need to address my perception—or let it go. But hanging on to perceptions and resentments does nothing for my mental health.

As a second-child peacemaker, learning to address problems when they arise has taken a long time. I’ve had to learn to get along without my oversized bag of suppressed emotions and learn to kindly state how I feel at the time.

Now I think about it as making a choice between whacking a mole when it pops up, or catching the said mole and letting it rot in my bag of resentments. Not a pretty picture. Resentment stinks.

Learn to deal with feelings when they arise. Hanging on to them can cause resentment. Resentment stinks. #whackamole #selfcare #holidays Click To Tweet

My husband kindly points out that sharing how I feel at the time makes life better for everyone. I learn slowly. But I DO learn.

The Benefits of Planning Ahead

Want a more peaceful holiday? Learn to deal with feelings when they arise. Hanging on to them can cause resentment. Resentment stinks. #whackamole #selfcare #holidaysWhen September rolls around, some folks can’t wait for pumpkin spice lattes and fall decorations. I stress about receiving invitations we’ll feel obliged to accept. I’ve discovered that I need to prepare myself mentally for the holidays and time outside of my comfort zone. And the sooner I start the better.

Maybe you can relate to the introvert’s dilemma. Spending time with people you love can drain your batteries faster than leaving the headlights on all night during a snowstorm. For some, just the thought of spending time with extended family brings on a case of hives or the heebie-jeebies.

You love your family and you love seeing them, but before every visit you anticipate the potential drama. You know that Uncle Ed will make at least one racist comment over Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Edna will berate the children (who are now in their twenties) for dribbling imaginary crumbs at the table. Grandpa Bob will bring up that time that you barfed all over him back before you could walk.

Maybe things with your family feel more like a Jerry Springer episode. Don’t give up hope, though. Start planning now. A little advanced planning can go a long way toward lessening the stress and drama of family gatherings. You can help rewrite the holiday script.

It takes hard work and a willingness to revise. A lot of prayer helps, too. God wants us to get along with each other, and he’ll send the Holy Spirit to help you out. Pray before you speak and pray as you plan.

Tips for Visiting Other People

1. Initiate open conversations. Talk with your spouse and children. Find out what they love and hate about the holidays. It’s possible that everyone has silently suffered over countless holidays out of a mistaken sense of loyalty to you and your quirky family members.

2. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition. Determine ahead of time how you want to spend the holidays so that when someone invites you, you can honestly tell them that you have previous plans. You have permission to tell family members, “Our family voted to spend Thanksgiving at home this year.”

3. Set boundaries early. If you do opt to spend a holiday meal or overnight visit with quirky relatives, set boundaries about how long and where you’ll stay.

4. Be honest—even if it makes you uncomfortable. We hosted a family reunion at our home once, and some of the relatives chose to camp 15 miles away. Their actions hurt me at the time. In retrospect, I understand that they simply didn’t want to offend me. They knew we don’t drink, and they wanted to celebrate in their own way. I would have appreciated their honesty.

5. Pick your battles. If you know that Uncle Ed struggles with racist ideology, decide your approach. Know ahead of time how you will react. Will you quietly say, “Uncle Ed, when I hear racist statements, I feel uncomfortable/angry/frustrated/sad. Please don’t generalize about people,” or will you simply change the conversation and debrief with your kids later? If you know that Aunt Edna will berate your kids for a perceived infraction of her house rules, talk with your kids. Do they want you to stick up for them? If they do, plan a polite response to Aunt Edna ahead of time that you can genuinely say in love.

Rewriting Your Family’s Script

Taking care of the sticky parts of the holidays early will help you enjoy them more. But it might not happen this holiday season. It might take a few years to open lines of productive communication. But don’t give up hope.

You may always feel the tension between the Norman Rockwell holidays of your dreams and Jerry Springer-ish reality. But learning to handle the tensions with prayer and grace will help eradicate the drama and keep you from feeling like you want to explode when January rolls around.

Have you ever had to rewrite your family’s holiday script? What worked for you?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your favorite posts from last week!

2. Visit TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

A bonus for you!

Subscribe to receive weekly reminders about the Inspire Me Monday Link up, and I'll send you Ten Quick Ways to Make Your Blog Better.

Powered by ConvertKit
 Loading InLinkz ...


  1. Thanks for these ideas, Anita. We’ve already experienced some of the challenges of being in-laws at the holidays. We had something of a major blowout because of different expectations from us and from our adult son and his wife last Thanksgiving. We even felt the need to travel back to work it all out–it was that important to us. And we are learning, albeit slowly, how to tread into these new and unknown territories! I thought that once my kids grew into adults, my life would get simpler–which has been far from the truth! Lol! Thankfully, we are all believers, so God is our guide through the messiness of relationships.

  2. Great heads up, Anita. Like Beth above, we are entering in-law territory–now with two sets!–so we want to tread softly to make things easy and peaceful for our married kids.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with this touchy subject!

  3. It’s good to think about dealing with these situations in advance and I agree, it’s better when we talk openly about how we feel rather than bottling it up.

  4. Great idea to start thinking about the holidays now to avoid family drama. It took me nearly 20 years to quit trying to people please and do what was best for our family. Maree

  5. Oh wow – yes, we’ve had our share of kerfuffles, both as guests and hosts. Once when my then future daughter-in-law and her mom were visiting, I made a big Sunday breakfast (our tradition) and woke them up at the last minute so they could sleep as long as possible (my boys’ preference). Turns out they weren’t big breakfast eaters, but would rather have had a little bit more warning. So now I tell people this is when we have breakfast, and we’d love to have them join us, but I understand some would rather sleep in and get something light.

    Good tips all around, especially planning ahead and being open.

  6. I need these tips, Anita. I’m already starting to dread the holidays, and my family gets along fine! ha. It’s just the thought of all the activity and hubbub that drains this introvert. Good communication is definitely wise advice, no matter what the situation.

  7. Oh yeah, this, Anita –>’Spending time with people you love can drain your batteries faster than leaving the headlights on all night during a snowstorm.’

    Been there, done that. Continuing to learn how to navigate it all!


  8. I appreciate your gentle voice of experience, Anita. I love the holiday season, but the actual big days have been stressful for me the last couple of years (for a variety of reasons, some beyond my control). What you’ve written has shown me that I need to start praying about those days even now … so thank you!

  9. Such great ideas, Anita. I lived in a place of resentment for years with my family because I never spoke up. I told a few trusted “People” but never had a conversation with the person who made me feel less than each holiday. Your ideas are ones that will be used in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

You may also like

%d bloggers like this: