The time between October and January is filled with dozens of holiday and cultural celebrations all around the world. One common component between them all is family. While many people can’t wait to be together, others might have some challenges. How can you have a balance of peace and community?
Thoughts from the Experts on Keeping the Peace
It may feel at times that the holidays are simply too much to handle, no matter how enjoyable various activities might be. There might also be added stress from struggling to meet certain expectations or handling (more likely avoiding) unresolved issues, especially for families in recovery.
Before the proverbial train leaves the station, Johns Hopkins Medicine presents more introspective tips to help keep the season in perspective, such as:
- Reflect on what’s important to you during this time. This involves setting an intention of how you want to spend the holidays, with whom, and why. Maybe you can journal about this or have some conversations in your support group. Because after all, “It’s hard to have a meaningful holiday if you don’t determine ahead of time what will give it meaning.”
- Manage expectations. Every single article you read about reducing stress during the holidays and keeping peace in the family leads with this. Having a clear view on everything from how much money to spend on gifts to talking to relatives about addiction recovery establishes a sense of reality—which might make way for more unforced and pleasantly unexpected magical moments.
- Communicate clearly how others can support or assist you. Whether it’s dealing with an overload of holiday preparations, not placing the liquor bar in the middle of the room, or asking for the opportunity to attend some functions but not others without a fuss, “most people are happy to help as long as they understand clearly what you want and they have enough time to provide the support,” Johns Hopkins states.
Handling Difficult Topics
Certain conversations might disrupt family harmony, too, especially when involving topics such as past grievances, politics, religion, race, and pandemic vaccinations—to the point where some might not participate in the usual holiday gatherings.
Psychologist Michele Williams, a professor at the University of Iowa, said in a recent interview that one factor that causes communication breakdown is the intent. “Most of us approach conversations like these as a debate. We want to win the conversation. We want to win over the other side to our point of view and we want to point out the flaws in the other side’s logic,” Williams said. “That’s often not the way to come to a win-win situation.”
Planning ahead, clearing the air, and setting boundaries help manage difficult conversations. For example:
- If a loved one’s addiction problems aren’t resolved and there’s the potential for drama, arrange to have some one-on-one time beforehand to talk about how best to approach certain gatherings.
- If Aunt Sue insists on talking about the 2020 election results, let her make her statements, then ask her about something more enjoyable, such as her latest hobby or a happy holiday memory.
- Sometimes, if you’re the one in recovery, relatives might use the holidays as a time to talk about every single wrong thing you’ve ever said or done, which can be difficult to manage. Make sure to have reinforcing conversations with your support group before the holidays so you feel confident. Then, if certain sensitive topics come up, simply say, “I understand that my behavior during the height of my addiction was a problem. I’m in recovery now, and welcome the opportunity to talk with you privately in a couple of weeks so we can have a better understanding of each other.”
Be the Change You Want to See
To keep the peace during family holiday gatherings, you might have to adapt certain methods to create a more peaceful environment or to allow for more meaningful experiences.
Make a holiday plan. This provides a better element of control. Select one particular activity for each holiday you celebrate that’s important to you, and make that your central point. Initiate other activities with family and friends, too, if that’s your choice.
Consider volunteering. A community activity deepens your intention for what the holidays mean to you, creates a greater sense of belonging, and might be an important bridge your relatives can cross with you to develop a new sense of purpose.
Find a refuge. Depending on your personality, too many people in a small space might be overwhelming. Take a walk, settle into a lawn chair under a tree and read for a bit, or find a quiet corner and color with a younger relative to ease the strain of a lot of togetherness.
Celebrate your culture and family history. Break out the photos and heirlooms, tell the story about how a specific family tradition began, or ask people for their funniest holiday memories. With just a few subtle hints, your shared bond becomes more apparent.
Add as much fun as possible! Whether it’s a holiday movie marathon, a touch football game in the park, taking silly pictures in matching pajamas or goofy hats, or dancing to music through the ages, these and other activities provide a great buffer.
We wish you great joy during the holiday season, and offer as much support as possible. Here are some additional tips that may be helpful for navigating this time of year.
For further reading:
CNN: “5 Ways to Keep Peace During Family Gatherings”