The aroma of one’s favorite foods, the sounds of Christmas carols and perhaps watching your favorite Christmas movies is what you look forward to when thinking of getting together with extended family. Yet, amidst these wonderful sights and sounds is the possibility of old hurts and unpredictable personalities making a mess of Christmas, Hanukah, birthdays and even the anniversaries of loved ones we’ve lost during this season.
Having worked with so many families over the years I am aware that every family has their “stuff”, the kind of stuff that makes you wish you belonged to another family. Sadly, as long as there are people the possibility of things going terribly wrong will exist, however, the possibility for things to go well also exists. In hopes of making time spent with your family worth remembering here are a 6 important tips to consider.
Be Fair to yourself
Being fair may sound childish and simple but it is both fundamental and freeing. For starters, we can be fair to ourselves by thinking about what we really want for Christmas. Do we want to go along with certain “family traditions” (i.e. drinking beyond being able to respect the needs of others or picking on the vulnerabilities of certain family members for sport) or do we want moments of sharing recent positive occurrences and reflecting on fond memories? Remember, you have a choice about how you will invest your time, your heart, your life.
Set clear timelines
If your family has demonstrated that they don’t want the same things and despite your attempts they routinely derail positive interactions, limiting your time with them might be the best way to be fair to yourself. Knowing what time you will arrive as well as when and how you’ll make your exit can be very helpful. Ensuring that you are not trapped and dependent on someone to make your exit is essential especially if you may be subject to the “flavour” of the gathering changing after a certain time. I don’t typically recommend planning multiple parties on one day, however, that’s often a good “reason” to make a timely exit. Even if your next engagement or party is with yourself and a cup of something warm to drink in the comfort of your own space.
Define your contributions
Whether one gives gifts or simply exchanges kind words or warm hugs, knowing what you bring to a family gathering is invaluable. Not only can you avoid the pressures of going into debt by appreciating that the best things in life don’t cost money, you can check things off your list by deciding how you’ll interact with each person. A kind word, a homemade card, baked goods, wishes and prayers for health and prosperity are wonderful ways to contribute to your family, even if you’re prepared to make an early departure.
Be fair to others
Being fair to others is just as important as being fair to ourselves. People can change. If some unaddressed issue has you imagining worst-case scenarios it will be helpful to define how realistic those fears are and find the best time to address those issues (which will likely not be while you ask someone to pass the gravy). Writing people off and spending years wishing that they suffer for the wrongs they’ve done to you or others isn’t the healthiest solution either. That option only increases the odds of the hurt in your life and theirs continuing. Nevertheless, until you can confidently assess if someone is a safe person to be around, ensure that you pay close attention to the next tip.
Knowing whether or not someone is desirous, capable and ready for change is a HUGE part of deciding how to be fair to them and to one’s self. Because we don’t have time to get into knowing where someone is at on the spectrum of change it will be important to play it safe. I am planning on doing a series on safe people in the New Year, but suffice it to say, if you’re at risk for physical, sexual or emotional hurt please take appropriate precautions. I would never recommend being in the presence of someone who has physically or sexually hurt you, especially if there is a chance of it happening again.
If you’re feeling safe enough to be around someone who has been hurtful in the past I encourage you to have at least one safe person with you at ALL times. If you don’t have someone you trust, both to share what has happened and to commit to being with you for the duration of the gathering, depending on the hurt you’ve endured, only you can determine if attending is worth it.
This last tip is probably the most important as it can incorporate all of the others. Trying to find a balanced view and approach to one’s family can be very difficult so take the time think things through in advance. Talk to someone who has enough wisdom and distance from your situation to give you both the space to express yourself and think critically about your family. Ultimately, being intentional about how you define ‘family’ and the people you choose to spend your time with will directly inform the “quality time” you experience this season.
I look forward to journeying with you in the days ahead. Until we connect next, stay safe and enjoy the best of this season.
p.s. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter and upcoming vlog, please do AND feel free to contact me and let me know what topics you’d be interested in hearing about in the new year!