Studio 5 Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Dr. Liz Hale helps us prepare for some of the inevitable circumstances that will give us the opportunity to be daring during the holidays.
A few weeks ago we asked our viewers what their greatest concerns were in approaching the holidays. As I looked through all the responses that came in, two general concerns were endorsed repeatedly: Family (parents, in-laws, siblings, etc.) and traditions.
This biggest complaint viewers had about family during the holiday season was how to accommodate the requests (even demands!) for time! I’ve read many e-mails and talked to countless couples about the manipulative tactics of parents.
We are blessed to have people who want us; who want our kids; but it can feel like that daunting pressure of it never being good enough…no matter how time I give them, I fall short of their expectations. Allow family to be disappointed. Do not rescue the martyr parent by trying to make everything all right for them. You can’t. But you must be empathic, loving, and kind.
Trust them that they have all the tools, talents, and abilities they need to manage their disappointment the best they can. I often say to my clients, “be the kind of adult your parents would otherwise be proud of if they weren’t feeling sorry for themselves about not having all of your time and attention at the holidays. Be the best man/woman, husband/wife, father/mother you can because that’s who YOU want to be; do what makes you feel good about you regardless of what anyone is else is doing around you. This is one of those opportunities for growing up!
So often we want them to STOP being disappointed so that we’ll feel better about our decisions. But why wouldn’t parents want to gather all their family around them – no one can blame them. We can either be upset with their disappointment, or we can put ourselves in their shoes and say, “I don’t blame you for feeling this way – I’ll likely feel this way, too, when my kids are adults – but thank you for trying to support our decision this year to do X, Y, and Z.” Sometimes all any of us needs to do is emote and have someone listen to our feelings of hurt and sadness. Embrace your parents’ disappointment in their expectations not being met; don’t begrudge them their feelings and don’t disrespect them by fixing their feelings either. Trust them that’ll find a way to manage the disappointment.
Many of us have areas of concerns that we don’t know how to untangle ourselves from, such as, when a family member has too much to drink. Here’s a chance to be bold and do something different. If alcohol addiction is a problem in your family and children will be at your Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts, have the courage to suggest an alcohol-free celebration full of lots of delicious ciders and non-alcoholic beverages. Show a new way of holiday celebration for the kids. Some family members may not stay very long. Allow them to leave after an hour but express gratitude for their willingness to celebrate sober.
One of my clients, who is hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, was asked by her brother with a history of drug and alcohol abuse what he could bring for dinner. And she thought for a minute and said, “I want you to bring you….completely sober!” Be gutsy enough to tell the truth.
Traditions are the next sticky area. Sometimes it’s impossible to keep them all and get them all in. Do you remember what we always say about flexibility? It’s the key to mental health. Granted, some traditions are sacred….but let’s allow our minds and souls to cope with change when it’s for the greatest good of the whole. Here are a few examples:
“This year we’ll go see the lights on temple square – next year well go to the Cathedral of the Madeline for their children’s Christmas choir.” Or, “this year we’ll be your side of the family, next year we’ll go to mine”….instead of zooming around the ends of the city to make all the stops but not stopping to really soak in the true meaning of the season for you and your family.
Suggest a change in some traditions. Traditions are meant to be kept and adjusted and flexible….and some are meant to be retired. Decide what is sacred and decide what can be adjusted. For example, at the family Christmas party, having Santa pay a visit to the kids is a must…but instead of the adults bringing white elephant gifts to exchange among themselves, they bring a donation for charity. Just one small change in tradition can make a big difference to someone less fortunate as family and friends bring cash, food, or warm clothing donations.
Every year a cousin of mine has a Christmas party and asks all the guests to bring a warm blanket. She then fills her entire car up (once or twice!) with all the donations and heads to the homeless shelter. This traditional Christmas Party has become a huge hit with her wide circle of friends.
Be brave enough to break away from the traditional extended family celebration…if you want! Plan WAY ahead, however. We face a great deal more resistance with last-minute changes than something that has been planned and established months (even a year) before. For instance, “next year, gang, we’re going to pool our money together as a family and hit the Hawaiian beaches…so we won’t be here next year!”
My bold. move for the month of November was to suggest to my family that we not exchange Christmas gifts as adults this year. We’re each going to take that money, instead, and bless the life of someone else who is truly in need. Instead of trying to do both, family and community, now we’ll have that much more to do for someone else. Now, what makes this most doable is that we will not be altogether for Christmas this year It will be mush easier to do this not facing each other directly so please don’t give me too much credit. But it is the ideal time to make a drastic change to our usual celebration.
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.