You Can Survive the Holidays with Your Family.

Normally this space is reserved for advice for parents with teens; this week will be different. I’m speaking to adults who plan to spend the holidays with their parents and siblings and giving tips to help them survive and enjoy the holidays.

You and your teen
Surviving the holidays
Land Park News Family Columnist

Recently, my client “Dave” has been worried about his yearly visit to Southern California.  He and his wife and kids are spending Christmas with his parents and siblings and staying for a few days afterwards.  As Dave is a chef, the unspoken expectation is that he’s going to prepare a lavish feast.  And for the last eight years, he has.  While others relax, he spends the entire day cooking, getting little help from anyone but his mother and wife.  By the time the celebration starts, he’s resentful, exhausted and in no mood to celebrate.

And others fulfill their roles.  His brother socializes, doesn’t even offer to help, and drinks too much.  His sister snaps at everyone and leaves in a huff.  His father tells loud, inappropriate jokes that make others uncomfortable.

Dave wants things to be different this year.  He has already told his parents that he’s taking the year off from cooking.  He has suggested either a potluck or going to a restaurant.  He has also made plans to take his wife and kids to Disneyland for a couple of days.  He then plans to return to his parents’ house for their last night before heading home.

Just as Dave is trying a new strategy this year, each of us has to figure out what to do differently, to increase the chance of enjoying the holidays with our families.  Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you prepare to go.

It’s OK to break lifelong patterns of behavior.  There’s nothing like time spent with family for you to suddenly find yourself talking and acting like you did when you were a teenager living at home.  When you realize you’re doing this, gently remind yourself that you are now an adult, and as long as you aren’t rude or inconsiderate, you are free to behave however you want.

Be aware that your siblings and parents are also likely to repeat their lifelong patterns.  The brother who has always said mean things in order to knock you down will probably try to do the same this year.  Remind yourself not to take his bait. Instead, take a deep breath and respond to him as calmly and kindly as possible.  Eventually, he’ll lose interest and pester others.

Despite the inevitable pressure to be together for EVERY MINUTE of your visit, take breaks from your family.  Be it spending an evening with a friend, heading away overnight, or just taking a walk around the block after dinner, if you spend some time away from your family you’re more likely to enjoy your time with them.

Regardless of what you plan to do differently, be aware that you will probably feel the pressure to act like you always have.  If you stick to your guns and do what makes you (and your spouse and children) happy, rather than giving in and feeling badly afterwards, it’s likely that you’ll leave feeling satisfied and (almost) ready for next year.

5 Responses to You Can Survive the Holidays with Your Family.
  1. Betsy
    November 9, 2011 | 3:55 pm

    Thought your article made a lot of sense, especially the part about changing patterns for Holidays. For many years I always cooked Thanksgiving dinner, even though I don’t particularly like turkey and the trimmings. My husband suggested one year that we go out for dinner at a nice beach side restaurant with the family. We all enjoyed it and after a brief twinge of guilt for not cooking, we always went out from then on…

  2. Lisa
    December 3, 2011 | 11:17 pm

    Nice to know that it’s not just my family who doesn’t (ever) have the Norman Rockwell kind of Christmas.
    I made it through Thanksgiving, but barely. My older brother was as mean and nasty as ever. I tried everything you suggested, but nohing helped. I don’t think he smiled or laughed the two days he was here, and he brought everyone else down with him. What do you do when you are stuck with family members who are as mean as the devil?

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      December 5, 2011 | 8:23 pm

      Lisa, so sorry your brother was so difficult. You asked a really good question, and my first thought is to prepare ahead of time for his arrival. My guess is that the rest of your family feels similarly about him, so it shouldn’t be difficult for the family to commit to supporting each other when he behaves inappropriately at the event. He could feel bullied, but having the entire family call him out on his behaviors could bring about some change. My sense is that you’ll need to come together as a family at a different time of the year and discuss having a family intervention (similar to those when families confront people with their substance additions). Let him know collectively that his behavior won’t be tolerated, and he needs to make changes if he’s going to be welcome at family gatherings. Then be prepared not to invite him to the next family gathering. It sounds hostile putting him on probation, but it may be the only way to bring about changes. Your brother sounds angry and, quite possibly, depressed. My suggestion is that the family must strongly recommend counseling, hoping that he’d be able to get at some of those feelings that are so difficult for him. Hope this helps. Feel free to update me as time goes on.

      • Lisa
        December 12, 2011 | 9:53 pm

        I’m so glad to read your response, because a few of the family members decided to let my brother go to another brother’s house out of state. Okay, I mean we called my little brother and asked him to “take one for the team.” We let my “mean” brother know that we wouldn’t be abused by him at holidays any more.
        We’ve put up with the abuse forever, so we actually feel pretty good about being proactive and not letting him spoil our Christmas.
        He was mad at first, but we explained that we love him, and we’re not happy about having to make the decision, and he seemed to be okay with that.
        Hopefully, maybe Easter, we can get together as a family without all of his drama. I’ll keep my fingers crossed! 🙂

        • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
          December 12, 2011 | 10:44 pm

          Lisa: Good job. I know it’s tough to have to pass off your brother onto your other brother. But sometimes we have to make these sort of choices to keep our sanity. At a minimum, I hope your Christmas is more enjoyable than Thanksgiving. Even better would be if your entire family is able to get together at Easter. My sense that the only way this is going to happen is if you have a family intervention. After hosting him for Christmas, I’m sure your little brother will be ready to join in. If you’re all able to talk to him about your concerns and demand that he behaves more pleasantly-or he won’t be invited next time-I’m hopeful that he’d have to make changes or risk spending a holiday alone. Enjoy Christmas and good luck down the road. Keep me posted.

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