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Advice from Ms. Price
Dear Ms. Price,
My husband and I have been married for 10 years. For the most part, things have been smooth and we are happy. The only time of the year where we have problems is around the holidays.
Our biggest argument revolves around the family get togethers, traveling and who gets to see the grandchildren for which holiday. The other problem is once we’re there, we have some toxic family behavior that is difficult to handle.
My husband and I lean politically moderate to liberal. Both of our families are extremely conservative and a few on my side are very far to the right. Each gathering has become more and more difficult to handle, to the point where I want to skip it altogether and create our own family traditions of having a peaceful holiday.
Holiday Burnout in Safety Harbor
I think it’s interesting that your sign off is located in Safety Harbor. I take it as a sign that you do need to create a feeling of safety and peace for your family.
Isn’t it sad that we can’t leave politics out of the holiday season? When I was growing up, I never heard political talk at the table when visiting family. It was always a gathering of loving family, creating memories I cherish to this day. We don’t need to agree on politics to love one another.
There is nothing wrong with taking time alone as a family to create your own traditions and own sense of identity as a family unit. And because of the increasing volatility of your holiday visits, that seems to be a wise move.
I would sit down with your husband and come up with a plan. Notice I didn’t say sit down with your husband and extended family, but make this a decision that is made just between the two of you. Perhaps one out of every three or four holidays can be spent with just your immediate family, giving you all some peace.
Note that you will have push back from family and will most likely face opposition ranging from benign disappointment to full-out arguments. This is why it’s important that your husband and you show a united front.
I also have 9 tips for handling toxic or difficult family members during the holiday season:
Advice on How to Navigate the Holidays with Family
1. Mix it up
If Aunt Lila usually starts trouble after her first martini during cocktail hour, then rethink that whole cocktail hour thing. Try a game or a puzzle, or perhaps going out and caroling or working in a homeless shelter for an hour. Think ahead and remember, your best defense is a good offense.
2. Don’t be caught off guard
Be aware of your triggers and think ahead. Similar to “mix it up,” think about the past and the behaviors that you can predict. If you know that your cousin is competitive with you and puts in a dig every time you talk about achievements, prepare yourself.
When triggers occur, have an immediate “out” such as go to the bathroom, have a “safe word” with your husband if you can make an escape, or say you have to make a phone call and excuse yourself. Taking care of yourself and minimizing exposure is key.
3. It’s all about the self-care
Having a positive holiday experience is all about self-care. Have a book you can escape to when times get tense, or a friend to call or text, go for a massage, mani-pedi or even a long bath can do it.
4. Protect your holiday
It is not being selfish when a family reserves actual holiday time for their own nuclear family. This is building the health and wellness of your own family unit. You can visit with extended family later in the day or the day before or after the actual holiday.
5. Ix-nay on the Olitics-pay (Nix the Politics)
It’s only been very recently that politics has made its way to the Thanksgiving table. Not that we didn’t suffer some difficult behavior, but sharing and fighting about politics has been a somewhat recent activity. You could try to make the announcement that when you host a holiday at your home, politics are not to be discussed.
6. Breathe and journal
The one thing no person should be without during a trying holiday season is a notebook. I learned this tip many years ago and it is something I can’t live without.
Once a day, I sit and write for ten minutes all the things that bother me, worry me, cause me anxiety, and then I close the book. Afterwards, I will close my eyes and do a short deep breathing meditation. When things come up during the day that might make me anxious, I’ll either sit and write or I tell myself I get to write about it later in the day. It gets your thoughts on paper and allows you to express yourself in a healthy way.
7. Change the locale
If you usually stay in your in-laws home during holidays or your old room at your parents house, consider splurging and staying in a nearby hotel. It’s a gift to you and your family as well as an escape.
8. Practice mindfulness
When you feel anxiety rearing its ugly head, remove yourself and take a time out. It’s also helpful to have a mantra or word you repeat to yourself, like “peace” or “calm.”
9. Protect your children
Hopefully, the family doesn’t engage in inappropriate talk in front of children, but if they do, there is nothing wrong with removing your children from the situation. It’s important for children to see their parents handle situations in a positive manner and demonstrate healthy boundaries.
If something does happen in front of the children, make sure you sit down with them and have a talk. Resist the temptation to bad mouth the toxic family member. Let your child know that you will manage things appropriately. Children feel safe and confident when they have clear and honest communication. It’s a good opportunity to create a healthier future for your children and your family.
Sending peaceful and happy holiday wishes to all of our readers!