‘Tis the season of long text chains, strict schedules, and your dad blaming your mom when things go wrong. We understand the pain and frustration that comes with celebrating the holidays in a broken family.
This year, spend the holidays how you want to. Here is how you can navigate the hard conversations that come with attending multiple holiday events:
Be Realistic About What You Can Do
You want to say yes to everything, but one parent is in another state and the other is right down the road. If you travel to see one, you no longer have time to stop by the other. And your partner wanted to go to their family Christmas this year. Will you face the wrath of both of your parents by telling them you will not be in attendance?
If you know this anxiety all too well, it is time to get realistic about the holidays. You are only human. You cannot possibly make everyone happy, and trying to attend every event you can will only end up making you deeply unhappy and exhausted at the end of the day.
Accept that stress is going to be a part of this season no matter what. However, it is up to you to decide what stress you want to forgo and what stress is worth the fun. Choose with intention!
Separate Your Relatives’ Feelings From Your Own
Adult children of divorce tend to feel a deep sense of obligation to see their family. For especially empathetic people, this can mean feeling shame from mom or disappointment from dad—two feelings that can cause anxiety to shoot through the roof.
Remember that these are their feelings, not yours. While you can acknowledge them and apologize for the frustration, it is not your guilt to bear.
You can work on separating their feelings from yours by building healthy boundaries. Learn to say “no” with confidence, meaning without offering adjustments. If you know it will be stressful to balance another stop on your holiday road trip, do not even think of offering up, “Maybe I can leave one early…”
Once you set your boundary, come up with a ritual to “cleanse yourself” of the emotions that are not yours. Some people like jumping into the shower after spending time with others to enjoy some alone time, mentally reset, and metaphorically “wash” away the feelings of others.
Acknowledge The Feelings That Come Up
You are not a failure for feeling sad around the holidays. Not being able to see certain family members is upsetting, and sometimes just being put in the position of having to choose at all is what is most frustrating.
Remember that these feelings are completely valid, so try not to minimize or suppress them. Let yourself feel them by journaling, talking them out with a loved one, or sharing them with a therapist.
Know that you may not be the only one feeling hurt this year. While it is certainly not your responsibility to do everything your family wants you to do, it is your responsibility to treat them with love and respect.
You can apologize for the hurt and disappointment they feel without changing your plans and being overly accommodating. Offer up something like, “I’m sorry that I’m not coming to Christmas. I know you’re disappointed we can’t see each other, and I miss you a ton! I just can’t make it happen this year.”
Tense conversations tend to go over better when you validate the other person’s feelings first, but still stand your ground.
If you have a habit of dreading the holiday season, consider starting counseling today. Together, we can uncover those deeper issues so you can go on to enjoy happier, healthier holidays.