Songs about peace on earth resonate throughout the holidays—and a heart-warming thought it is—but many of us are just wishing for peace in our own families.
Holidays are meant to be a time for enjoying and even cherishing family and friends, but too often tensions erupt to break the peace. Sometimes these are long-simmering issues from childhood; sometimes more recent disagreements over anything from child-raising to politics and religion. Sometimes it’s just a stress-fueled disagreement over how to make the gravy or who makes the best stuffing.
I celebrate most holidays with friends—my family of choice. This eliminates much stress for me, but I still hear my friends bemoan emotion-charged holidays—past, present and future.
Some describe the problem as “family overload.” So, how can you cope with too much family time during the holidays?
Dr. Gary Hill, a licensed clinical psychologist and licensed marital and family therapist, says the best thing to do is to create a simple peacekeeping plan to prepare yourself for any conflicts that could arise.
“The holidays can be challenging for many families,” says Dr. Hill. “We’d all like to believe that holiday gatherings should be joyful and stress-free, but this isn’t always the case. Family relationships are often complicated, but with a bit of pre-planning, the holidays don’t need to be a disaster.”
Here are some of Dr. Hill’s tips for a more peaceful holiday gathering with family:
Remember that nothing is perfect—and no family is perfect. People can get on each other’s nerves, and family members definitely know how to push each other’s buttons. Be prepared and remind yourself that you don’t need to respond as you may have responded in the past.
If you know Mom is going to ask when you plan to have children—and you don’t want to discuss it— prepare your response in advance so you can avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Try to remain as calm as possible and not escalate tension.
Take a Stand
If you sometimes feel steamrolled into doing things you may not want to do simply because it’s a “family tradition,” remember that you have a say. Going with the flow is fine, but not if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Change Your Outlook
Instead of dreading the family gathering and assuming the worst, challenge your long-held assumptions and approach it differently. What would happen if you broke some family traditions and tried something new this year? Don’t do things just because that’s how they’ve always been done. Changing your plans may change your outlook.
Don’t Expect Miracles
If your family has a history of conflict, don’t expect that everything will suddenly be resolved. Yes, the holidays are a time for forgiveness and goodwill, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. Focus on your own peaceful state of mind during the holidays and consider confronting difficult issues at another time of the year.
There may be no miracles at your holiday gathering, but here’s hoping for peace and goodwill to all.
Dr. Gary R. Hill is a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed marital and family therapist and a certified supervisor addictions counselor. He also has an extensive business background having been a senior manager for two national behavioral managed care companies and has a certification in general management from the Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University.