Managing Family Holidays and Gatherings

For some, family holidays can represent a time of laughter, bonding, reminiscing, celebrating new additions, and building new memories. However, for others, family holidays can be a reminder of loss, increased anxiety, depression, confusion, and a desire to avoid other family members. Unfortunately, some family members do not get along, some members do not respect the personal opinions, tastes, or world views of other members leading to conflict, resentment, and avoidance of other family members during the holidays. Failure to address interpersonal issues and unresolved historical conflict often leads to frustration and resentment. Negative emotions between family members can put a damper on the holiday season, especially, if members are forced to spend time together when they would rather not.

Like friendships, family relationships can exist in cliques or small groups. Like many other types of relationships, there will be some family members that connect, have more in common, and share similar world views with some family members better than with other family members. Unfortunately, when some members feel left out or excluded from joining in on family discussions or activities this can lead to avoidance and resentment which can negatively impact the relationship of the entire family. During the holidays we may feel it is our duty to attend family gatherings, to be physically present with other family members, and uphold long standing traditions.

Potential Reasons Holidays Present Challenges for Family Members Include:

• Unresolved family issues and conflict
• Feeling obligated to attend family holidays and gatherings
• Outdated traditions and family rituals
• Unhappy memories
• Financial issues/gift exchange
• New family members
• Absent family members
• Toxic family members
• Recent divorce/single
• Alcohol/substance abusing member
• Recent loss/death of a family member
• Overbearing/controlling members
• Untreated mental illness/insufficiently treated mental illness
• Unrealistic expectations for other family members and the holiday

The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious – purchasing gifts for family members, family dinners, the burden of tradition, loss, obligations, illness, divorce, etc., that can leave members feeling overwhelmed and anxious. There are many reasons why families end up having acrimonious relationships as children transition into adulthood. From difficult childhoods, conflicting/destructive parenting practices, sibling rivalries, addiction, mental illness, different world views, or differing personalities, odds are that some animosity will exist between various family members or in the family as a whole. However, there is hope, you can enjoy family gatherings without losing your cool.

Suggestions That Can be Used to Improve Family Holidays and Gatherings Include:

• Establishing realistic expectations
• Set appropriate boundaries for toxic family members
• Do not feel obligated to interfere or join in disagreements between other family members
• Remind yourself that everyone has personal issues
• Do not use family holidays/gatherings to explore old arguments
• Identify holiday role roles and gathering place
• Be prepared for some conflict
• Respect the opinions and world views of other family members. Remember just because you are family doesn’t mean you will always agree.
• Do not feel obligated to participate in family rituals, it is ok to try something new and create new memories.
• Embrace family differences
• Address your own discomfort rather than condemning the behavior of another family member
• Focus on the good qualities of family members
• Don’t take things too personally

Managing different personalities during the holidays can be challenging, however, try to imagine how the other person’s behavior or words could be coming from a place of good intentions. Understand some members may not express themselves in a way we are not used to or the manner we like. There are several choices we make in life, but family is not one of them. Therefore, we must accept the things we cannot change and develop the wisdom to know the difference.

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