Dealing with Difficult Family
The holidays are fast approaching with company parties, social gatherings, family dinners, cooking, shopping, and decorating. We are reminded of the best moments with our families as well as our most painful moments.
Family relationships help us grow
Honoring family relationships can give us great joy and satisfaction. Deep family connections are sustaining during life’s difficult as well as happy occasions. Attendance at family gatherings helps to strengthen family bonds. Focus on strengthening family relationships by cultivating common interests and acknowledging shared experiences. Create opportunities for fun and enjoyment: play games, decorate or work on crafts together, watch traditional movies together or play music. Most importantly, make an effort to accept differences and maintain healthy boundaries. This will allow you to enjoy family while cultivating a sense of serenity and acceptance.
Difficult family relationships and painful situations create the opportunity to foster serenity. Serenity is not about life being perfect; rather, serenity is about cultivating internal peace in the face of real life. Serenity requires that we are clear about what we can control and what we cannot control. We can change our own thinking, but not someone else’s. We can decide to go or not go to a family event, but we can’t control who else will be there. This clarity allows us to change what we can and let go of the rest. We no longer need to struggle against those aspects of family life which we have no ability to impact.
Take control of… yourself
Spend time reflecting on your individual family situation to determine if it is best for you to attend a family function. Write a pros and cons list to help you decide. If the stress, pain or aggravation exceed the benefits of attending, don’t go. Make alternative plans with friends; start new traditions. If you decide that you do want to attend a family function but anticipate challenges, then begin to plan. How will I manage my negative feelings and thinking? How can I best prevent a difficult family relationship from sending me into an emotional nosedive? What can I do so I still enjoy the gathering?
Painful memories can arise from loss due to death, estrangement or divorce, strained but active relationships, betrayal, legal action taken by one family member against another, elder care responsibilities, and so on. Recognize that it is OK to feel grief, sadness and anger. However, at large family gatherings it may not be appropriate to reflect on deep personal feelings. Remind yourself that these feelings can be explored later and try to focus on the here and now. If you do not want to discuss painful situations at a family gathering, develop a script and practice the art of good boundaries. For example: “It is so wonderful to see you, Uncle Bob. I would love to hear about your latest travels, but I really don’t want to talk about my relationship with your daughter tonight.” Boundaries should be set quickly, without judgment or negativity. Then move on to lighter conversation. When difficult feelings are temporarily set aside, revisit them at a later time. Strong emotions should not be avoided indefinitely. Make time to reflect on your loss either with a counselor or close friend, in an appropriate setting.
Dealing with Difficult Family
Every family has its own challenging relationships, with the opportunity to make family gatherings unpleasant: a grandfather who is demeaning, a competitive sister, a critical mother, squabbling siblings. A difficult family member may cause tension or conflict within the family, even if your relationship with this family member is not particularly difficult. Here is another opportunity to practice healthy boundaries: do not get involved in family conflicts that do not involve you directly. Accept the things that you cannot change in your family. Accepting that you cannot control how other people behave will make your holidays more enjoyable.
This adaptation of the Serenity Prayer summarizes the path to achieving serenity in the face of difficult family relationships, painful memories or hard times. What better time than the holidays to begin putting it into practice!
May I have the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace;
accepting life as it is, not as I would have it;
so that I may be happy in this life.
Time to Enjoy the Holidays
Holidays can quickly become overwhelming with jam-packed calendars and extensive to-do lists. It’s not always easy to find time for celebration, family and friends, while balancing workplace and household responsibilities. Here are some ideas to help you make your holidays more enjoyable and prevent you from burning out and collapsing with exhaustion:
Make realistic to-do lists with timelines
Each day, make a list of tasks which can be realistically accomplished in your set timeline. This way, you are setting reasonable expectations to help you pace yourself on a daily basis and avoid the frustrations of unrealistic goals.
Focus on one thing at a time
Be sure to estimate and designate a sensible amount of time to complete a chore. Then, rather than moving frantically from one incomplete task to another, finish each task before moving on. For example, try to decorate in one day, rather than over several days, to save time getting out decorations, organizing them, figuring out where you left off, then cleaning up, and putting away.
Re-evaluate your list at the end of the evening or week to assign values according to significance. Determine the “can’t-live-without” activities and place them at the top of your list. Other items may still be a possibility but only after accomplishing the most important priorities.
Organize your calendar
Set aside times for errands and chores as much as possible and designate those times on your calendar. Record future activities, parties, and holiday visits on the same calendar. Coordinate these activities with your immediate family to ensure everyone’s needs are taken into account, responsibilities are assigned, and schedules do not conflict.
Ask for help
Recruit family members to help with tasks, such as writing holiday cards or letters, shopping, decorating and cooking and errand-running. Delegate responsibilities according to ability, age and interest. Children can join in and celebrate the holiday season by decorating, making cookies and participating in other age-appropriate activities.
Use accessible tools and technology
Shop online. Call a store before you head out to check whether an item is in stock. Use web-based or cell phone productivity applications to organize and keep information in one place. If extra funds are available, consider hiring external assistance, such as a cleaning service.
Above all, keep in mind the true purpose of the holidays. Take plenty of time to appreciate and connect with friends and family. Relax, unwind, and enjoy. Plan to the best of your ability, and then go with the flow.
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Serenity is not about life being perfect; rather, serenity is about cultivating internal peace in the face of real life.
Most Valuable Gifts
If gift-giving at the holidays has become burdensome and overly extravagant in your family, it may be time to “think different.”
Let your family know you want to do gift-giving differently this year.
Ask your family to try this new approach with you.
Set low spending limits for gifts to motivate your family to find alternative ways to express love and appreciation.
Emphasize gifts of time, gifts of action and gifts of togetherness.
For each family member, identify something you can do for them or with them that is memorable and does not cost money.
Talk with your family about using gift funds to make a charitable donation. Identify a charitable organization that your family can support for the holidays.