How to Navigate Family Drama during the Holidays

I’m writing this article “How to navigate family drama during the holidays” because well, we all have it. I’m not going to pretend that Uncle Al doesn’t drive you nuts with his fragrant belching or that you enjoy Grandma Mary questioning your parenting decisions. Friend, the holidays can be merry and bright, but they can also be gray-hair inducing. Let’s figure out how to navigate this stress and still be standing at the end, shall we? 

Get your head together – You know you have a toddler when the first thing you think of when you read that is about Olaf’s body coming apart in Frozen. But in all seriousness, there is no more crucial time of year to prioritize your self-care. The irony is that this is also the most likely time we abandon it. Friend, the crazies are starting to come out. Passive-aggressive family members, catty co-workers, and Judgy Judies from EVERYWHERE are stress-inducing, but they are also likely testing your maturity limits. Don’t succumb to their level. 

The only way to maintain sanity is to double down on your self-care. I know, I know, you might be saying, Who has time for exercise? Or I’m too tired to get up in the morning. Girl, I get it. I’m right there with you. I’m going through all the things and doing all the things, too. But you have two choices: Give in to the craziness of the holidays and eat or drink (likely both) your way through it, or get enough sleep, move your body 30 minutes a day, and eat well. I’m telling you (and myself), that you will regret it if you scarf down all the cookies you can stand without vomiting every day until January 1st. It doesn’t have to be that way.  

Alternative plan: Get eight hours of sleep a night (don’t roll your eyes, just do it), move your body 30 minutes a day, and eat well. And then STILL have a martini. If you do the three things, then you can enjoy the martini or dessert guilt-free. If you do the three things, you can face the family passive-aggressiveness from a calm, empowered state. And we could all use a calm, empowered state about now. 

You don’t have to engage – Just because Uncle Al is spewing politics and talking all-things impeachment, doesn’t mean you have to. We all have that one family member who can’t handle polite discourse and will try to argue you to the death to “win” the point; all the while, everyone is uncomfortable and silent. Don’t rise to the occasion. I’m not saying just placate the person, but you know your family. If a certain person can’t handle a back-and-forth conversation, then decide if it’s worth it to you to engage. You can make small talk and move right along to the next person. Or, you can debate about the remaining presidential candidates and be prepared to handle the ramifications. Bottom line: Do what will help you feel the best

On the other hand, maybe YOU are the one who can’t handle polite discourse and YOU make things a little too “extra.” When you get excited about talking about certain issues, try to watch for these tell-tale signs of disinterest from others: few responses, little eye contact, no question-asking. Take the hint and start asking others about themselves. One-sided conversations aren’t really fun anyway. For this holiday, if YOU are the person who escalates talking into fighting, take it down a notch. Bottom line: Do what will help you feel best. 

You get to choose how you spend your time. – If we could wave a magic wand, many of us would substitute a family member or two, but in reality, that is not an option. When you are a child, you don’t get a choice to where you spend the holidays, who you have to sit next to at dinner, and you have to deal with the lack of toys sometimes. As an adult, though, you absolutely have a choice who you spend your time with. I asked a friend where she went for Thanksgiving, and she shared that her family always fights during the holidays, is intrusive, and judgmental, so this time, she chose to go to a friend’s house instead. As a 28-year-old woman, she had every right to make that decision. 

Friend, our time is previous, and it is not infinite. We don’t know how many Christmases and New Year’s we will have. I’m not telling you to blow off your family, but if they do you more harm than good, then I encourage you to consider your options. YOU get to choose how you spend your time. Some family members might be upset if you opt out of Christmas dinner, but if that is the right move for your mental health, then it might be worth it. Bottom line: Do what will help you feel best

You are role modeling behavior. – So, I got a double dose of a reminder of this one recently. Even though it’s embarrassing, I’m going to share a Mother of the Year story with you as a reminder that little eyes and ears are always watching and listening. My daughter Julia is 2 ½. She is everything that number encompasses – sweet, silly, fun, and also tantrummy at any given moment. You literally cannot predict what will cause a tantrum. Which, in turn, causes the “dammits” to come flying out of my mouth. I don’t know how it happens. 

Well, you can probably see where this is going….Julia picked up on my dammit habit and started saying it, too. We recently went on our first family vacation, and Julia brought her stuffed bunny to ride with her on the plane. She accidentally dropped it in the airport and said loudly, “Dammit, again!” My husband and I looked at each, tried not to laugh, and realized that, yep, that’s what she said. Not only did she repeat the inappropriate word, but she also said it with the right inflection. She said it a few more times throughout the following weeks. When I told her that we don’t use that word, it only made it a game, and she started saying it more. She has now adopted my “oh, crap,” as well. 

I say all that to say, the holidays can be more stressful because of family, of course, but we must remember that we are role modeling how to handle conflict. Our children pay attention, even if we don’t realize it at the time, to how we speak to others, if our voices raise, and if we get upset. We are teaching them how to communicate when we engage with family members. It’s important that we show them that conflict is normal and how to successfully cruise through it.  

How do you want the holidays to look like next year? – After the holidays pass this year, do a post-mortem. What did you most enjoy about family get-togethers? What would you like to improve? Build on the strengths and adjust the things that need improvement. Here’s the catch, though: If you identify an area that you would like to make better for everyone, you must understand your role and how much you can affect. We can only control our actions.  

For example, many of us have a family member who drinks more alcohol than he or she should, right? Inebriated people are more inclined to escalate calm conversations to disagreements and begin altercations, thereby ruining the holiday. You can’t control how much that person drinks, but if you are hosting, you CAN control the amount of alcohol that is in the house in the first place. Again, we can only control our own behavior, but reflect on the tweaks you can make to ensure the best situation for your and your children’s emotional health.  

That’s a wrap, friends! I know navigating family drama during the holidays is enough to cause more gray hairs, but hang in there! They will leave at the end of the night! Hahahahaha I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season. Thank you for reading. Get ready for an inspiring New Year’s Eve post next week!  

Don’t forget to subscribe to the “Follow Your Spark” blog to automatically learn about new postings! As always, thank you for reading!