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?

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