If you’ve ever watched the movie, The Sound of Music, you may remember Julie Andrews singing the song, My Favorite Things. The first verse goes like this:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;
Brown paper packages tied up with strings;
These are a few of my favorite things.
Some of you may think of “brown paper packages tied up with string” and smile at the wonderful memories that the holidays conjure up. The wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, the taste of those amazing holiday treats, the peals of laughter all around you, the smiles on the faces of family and friends, the feeling of satin ribbons and the texture of crisp paper as you wrap and unwrap gifts.
However, there are many of you whose thoughts of the holidays bring with them painful memories. Flashes of anger or sadness, feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression. And through it all, the realization that you cannot disappear until the holidays are over.
Many family therapists report an increase in clients seeking counseling for holiday related issues. Do any of the following issues sound familiar?
- My parents or in-laws make unreasonable demands on our time.
- Family members are inappropriate around our children.
- My ex-spouse creates drama that affects the children.
- We cannot afford to spend money during the holidays.
- We try to set limits and boundaries with family without success.
- I have horrible memories that surface during the holidays.
- Some of the grandchildren are not treated fairly in terms of kindness, attention and gifts.
- I am alone during the holidays.
- By the end of the evening, unkind comments have lead to tears.
- I want my family to create our own holiday rituals without parents, in-laws or extended family members.
For those of you who are experiencing any of these issues, here’s a few tips to help you get through the holiday season with a bit more optimism. Just remember, as author Peter Senge wrote:
All good things must have small beginnings.
- Take control of your visit
Before the holidays begin, make decisions regarding time limits, which celebration days belong to your immediate family, extended family and friends and what types of behaviors from others would necessitate an immediate end to the visit.
Please remember that if you have a partner, make these decisions jointly and provide a unified front. Stay steadfast. No wiggling.
Alright, let’s be honest, there are some loved ones whose company you can handle far longer than you can others. Make sure to clearly communicate your plans regarding days and time limits to those you will be visiting and to those who will be visiting you. Some people just do not know when to leave.
There may be some inappropriate behaviors from family members that trigger very negative responses from you. Make sure to have an exit plan in place so that you leave right when you begin to feel your gut go off. There are probably signs that the family member is about to become inappropriate. Leave right before they begin acting out.
2. Show financial responsibility
Make a decision about what you want to spend on holiday gifts and entertainment. You need to feel comfortable with what you spend and be able to afford what you buy and do during the season.
Many consumer counseling agencies report an increase in clients who require help after they overspend during the holidays and then cannot pay the bills. These financial mistakes can often lead to stress and marital conflict. Indeed, money issues are one of the top three reasons that couples seek counseling.
3. Learn to say “no”
Here is a reality check. There are some family members and friends that make requests and demands that are selfish, unreasonable and inconsiderate.
They have probably been making these same demands for years. And some of you have been unhappily accommodating them; causing stress, anger and anxiety that rolls over into your relationship with your spouse and children and negatively impacts your holidays.
Your choice is to continue to allow these folks the power to dictate your actions or you can take change the rules.
The word “no” is extremely powerful. It permits no discussion and said respectfully (without the attitude), allows you to celebrate the holidays so that you enjoy them.
If possible, make sure that you have an ally to help you when you start to waiver because you feel guilty. Otherwise, you have to practice telling yourself (over and over) that you deserve to say “no” with out anyone playing the guilt card. The first time will be extremely hard. But after that first time, you start to feel better about your decisions and can really appreciate and enjoy the holidays.
Finally, if you find that your solutions are not working, get some assistance. A good family therapist can help you master the tools needed to make this season a celebration.
Holidays provide you an opportunity to indulge in your senses or become overwhelmed by them. Which opportunity do you choose?
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