*CSP Team Note: This article was originally published on Southeast Psych’s website Psyche Bytes. Click here for the original article titled, “Relational Tips and Tools for the Holiday Season,” written by Jonathan Hetterly, LPC. A big thank you to Jonathan and Southeast Psych for letting us share this article with you! To read more of Jonathan’s articles, click here.
Ideally, the holidays are like the inspirational Hallmark holiday films where everybody pitches in, works together, and family members enjoy each other’s company.
Realistically, for some families, the holidays are closer to reality television, where strong personalities, conflict, competition, and drama are more common than sitting around a fireplace singing holiday songs. Although there is no magic potion or formula to cure family drama, these tips may reduce unnecessary holiday blues with family.
Tip #1: Communication: Talk, Talk, Talk!
People get tired of hearing this, but as with most things in life, communication is key – and it’s key to planning the holidays. The more people are involved, the more communication and conversations are needed to navigate all the demands, expectations, and timetables.
What’s the schedule? Who all is coming? Where are people staying? How long are people staying? Who needs to be picked up where? Who’s responsible for what?
The less people are able to talk about the holiday plans, the more likely something is going to go wide of the mark. It’s not a one-time talk. Communication is ongoing; it’s open to follow-up and change. It’s about discussing what needs to be known now because of sensitivity to time and following up with additional details and choices that will soon need to be decided.
And I’ve only described communication relating to information and strategic planning. Don’t crowd out the relational communication. How are you doing? What’s going on in your life? What do you think about this idea? What would you prefer? How can I help?
Helpful hints for all: Be honest. You can be open, honest, and compassionate about your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the holidays. If you’re unwilling to speak up, offer an alternative, or unwilling to pitch him and carry the load, it’s difficult to be sympathetic when you complain about how the holiday plans are executed.
“Make sure you are making time for things you WANT, things you ENJOY, things that are MEANINGFUL to you.”
However, if you’re unwilling to hear others and collaborate, it’s hard to be sympathetic when others don’t appreciate what you’re doing. Communication breeds collaboration and creativity. It also identifies potential areas for compromise. One person telling everyone else what’s going on and how things are going to go without input from others can feel controlling and increase the risk of unhappy holidays for some, if not all, involved.
Our goal is not to make the perfect holiday (never will happen) – but rather, a holiday experience that people will look back on positively for all the right reasons.
Tip #2: Ask for Help, Say No, and Simplify
Whatever decisions and juggling act you’re attempting for the holidays, chances are, you’re not alone. Everyone else is attempting the same thing as you; trying to manage and balance obligations, responsibilities, holiday opportunities, etc. etc. Don’t demand too much from yourself.
Likewise, don’t lighten your burden by unloading it onto others, especially if they’re not invested in it. Setting realistic expectations, both for you and others, is a key step in promoting a fulfilling and meaningful holiday season.
Everybody has a boiling point. Know where it is and don’t get too close to it. Ask for help. Delegate. Scale back and simplify. Don’t have time to bake three different desserts to make everyone happy? Ask for help. No one able or willing … one dessert this Thanksgiving, or NONE! Say no to being responsible for everything. Say no to other people’s unrealistic expectations. Say no to competing and comparing your holidays with past years or what others are doing. Don’t turn the season of joy into a season of excess.
Helpful hints for all: Look for balance in your commitments. Some, you’re obligated or compelled to do. But don’t load up on commitments and tasks that are for everyone else’s sake.
Make sure you are making time for things you WANT, things you ENJOY, things that are MEANINGFUL to you. This step will be greatly enhanced by going back to communication, communication, communication.
Instead of folks showing up on Thanksgiving or another big gathering, and finding out that one of their meaningful components has been cut, communicate ahead of time of changes or things that won’t be part of the celebration. That gives others time to either voice their feelings, and provide a chance for them to take up the banner, or negotiate a different task that allows you the time and energy to recommit to what you were considering dropping.
Tip #3: Accept Help and Let Go of Perfectionism
Asking for help is a great tip, but the benefits quickly erode if someone is not willing to accept other’s help on the other person’s terms.
You’ve undoubtedly experienced this in the past. Maybe this describes you in a nutshell. Someone offers to help, but then are micromanaged and criticized because they don’t do it the same way. In the end, the person who asked for help ends up doing it anyway, their way of doing it, and nobody is happy. What a recipe for drama.
Let go of perfectionism. Let go of the thinking error that “your way” is the “right way”. People make mistakes. Others may choose to do things differently. Or, they simply have not yet accumulated the same amount of experience to pull it off like someone who’s had years (if not decades) of practice.
Years from now, people will probably have long forgotten if the turkey was a bit overcooked, if the meal was 2 hours later than normal, if the pumpkin pie wasn’t good. But, people will remember feeling embarrassed in front of others and made to feel unappreciated, incompetent, or unnecessary. Imperfection is an illusion. It comes from the faulty assumption that your way is perfect. It isn’t perfect.
“Letting go of perfectionism is about giving yourself and others support and compassion.”
Helpful hints for all: One creative way to get help while teaching others is to do tasks together. Decorate the home together. Doing things together with people, versus each person being delegated a solo assignment, increases communication, interaction, fun, and can reduce the number of errors.
Another helpful option is to write out instructions. After you’ve delegated the task, offer follow-up support and feedback but don’t hover or micromanage. Let them come to you if they need additional help.
Tip #4: Table Hot Button Topics and Unresolved Conflicts for the Holidays
On some level it’s understandable. It’s not often the whole family gets together. When it happens, often big, serious discussions, that precede big, serious decisions, often are scheduled. But they often can cast a cloud over the holidays. Or being around family results in the resurfacing of ongoing family issues that are more easily avoidable when you’re not all under the same roof together.
Family problems don’t go away just because it’s the holiday season. So take a proactive and preemptive approach to reducing or eliminating unnecessary or avoidable conflict. Often, holiday suggestion lists (like this one) will often encourage folks to use the holidays as an opportunity to let go of past conflicts and resentments. They’ll admonish folks to use this season to learn to forgive.
While all of those are noble and admirable goals, they are not necessarily realistic. So create boundaries to help the interaction. Table hot-button topics and unresolved conflicts, especially if they’ve been going on for years and years. If they have been unresolved tension for years, why expect that this year is a moment for a breakthrough?
Instead, agree to not outwardly and directly address it. Don’t let it continue to be the elephant in the room. Family members have strong, differing religious beliefs? Take a holiday off from having that intense debate and argument over it. Talking politics in your family never end well? Evict it from your holiday plans. Somebody recently drop out of college? Somebody enter rehab this past year? Acknowledge it (don’t avoid it and make it the elephant in the room), but then express the desire to make the holidays a time where the family focuses on the hope and positives of the year.
“For some families, the holidays are closer to reality television, where strong personalities, conflict, competition, and drama are more common than sitting around a fireplace singing holiday songs.”
Helpful hints for all: Reduce the amount of time you plan to spend with difficult family members. Don’t overstay your welcome. It’s better to leave while things are going well than to drag the moment down.
If you ever come to the point where you say to yourself, “they’ll never change”, then change yourself, starting with how much time you are around them. As always, communication ahead of time is vital for these tips to come to fruition. Discuss ahead of time to agree to not have conversation degenerate into the same, heated talks the family members have had year in, year out.
Jonathan Hetterly is a licensed professional counselor. He specializes in helping teen and young adult men navigate the challenges they face in life. Jonathan is also a writer and his articles are regularly featured on PsychBytes.com and ShrinkTank.com.
He has contributed material to several books that explore the intersection of pop culture and psychology, including The Walking Dead Psychology, Star Wars Psychology, and Game of Thrones Psychology.