Negotiating (Holiday) Family Drama

dreamstime_xs_13248784“I hate to say this, but I really don’t want to spend my holiday time off, going home. I haven’t enjoyed it at all the past few years,’ Roger said with a shrug. It was beginning to snow and there was a waft of holiday cookies in the air. Lights twinkled on an artificial Christmas tree, with one or two gifts underneath. He looked at the cards taped to the family room door: Santa, Frosty, winter scenes, quaint, snow-covered villages from the turn of the century, a jolly family in a horse drawn sleigh. On the table was a food catalog with a luscious spiral ham on the cover, and another with Nordic young people smiling back, in expensive sweaters. Thinking of his family, it wasn’t perfect. His step dad drank heavily. His sister always brought hot button topics up. A younger sibling had a huge chip on the shoulder. His mom pretended everything was wonderful, and gossiped with her girlfriends on the phone. In fact, it was never perfect. It was more like an episode of ‘Everybody loves Raymond’ on the old sitcom channel. This could be why the Christmas Vacation comedies with Clark Griswold were so popular. Everyone has their version of a ‘Cousin Eddie’.

From assorted advice therapists come many lessons. Each individual should have a say. No dictators. Listening non-judgmentally is important. Ditch unrealistic expectations (folks don’t transform overnight), but at the same time know what to expect. Have some rules for polite behavior for children and teens for appropriate engagement. ‘Please’, ‘Thank-you’, ‘How are you?’ are NOT ‘old school’. Be sensitive to those not ‘feeling the script’. Set boundaries for how your time will be spent, and with whom, and how long. You know your own limits. Don’t let people push your buttons; refuse to engage or be insulted, and move on. Get over it. These tips are easier said, than done. Be thankful for who you are and the good gifts, talents, and abilities you have; the opportunities each new day brings. A deep breath and a ‘time out’ go far in regaining a sense of perspective.

Tamika had words with Aunt Bessie when the subject of her daughter’s weight came up; both mother and daughter felt singled out and accused. For the daughter, a bullying victim, it was enough to add insult to injury. (And it’s especially cruel when passing a plate of cookies at a table covered with dishes of tempting high fat holiday food!) Most importantly, know you are not alone. There are 115,226,802 million American households by the latest U.S. Census data! The definition of ‘family’ is also changing. It often includes a new assortment of people in the household: neighbors, singles, same sex couples, multi-ethnic, mixed age, blended and step families. Some have deliberately created a new space, place, and calm to avoid environments and people which they feel are toxic. Ask yourself in advance how you will model love, peace, joy and empathy in the face of high anxiety and drama.

The pros say one important strategy for coping is to pretend you are a movie producer, mentally filming your own show or sit-com. Step out of the scene in your mind, and observe for later processing and debriefing with someone close to you. Think about how ‘they’/’it’ got that way. Understand, forgive, and love them in spite of it all. For Shawna, a server, dealing with 5 separate celebrations because of step parents, grandparents and boyfriend’s parents, the exasperation she expressed to patrons led to a bigger tip! Happy holidays!

We’ve posted several popular media columns on the topic for you to create your own coping successfully plan:

[photo credits: angry father by EJWhite/Dreamstime 13248784]


About Communications

Communications and Social Media @ Sequel-Pomegranate Health Systems
This entry was posted in adolescent psychiatry, behavioral health, mental health, psychiatric care, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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