Emotionally Managing Family Get-togethers

photo credit: diapers-n-heels.com

Well, here we are in the wonderful holiday season—plenty of warm feelings and lots of food (usually) with people we love (or are suppose to).  If your family is anything like mine, sometimes these get-togethers can  cause more stress than times of enjoyment.  Here are a few tips for emotionally managing these stressful situations:

Little things:
Dress up.  Just like a job interview, our behavior is better and our performance improved when we are dressed well.  We tend to behave more like our attire:  casual dress, casual manners; sloppy dress, sloppy manners; formal dress, more formal manners.  You do not need to over-dress, simply dress nicely and appropriately.  Even just dressing a step above the normal dress for the activity will help you act more appropriately.

Don’t eat things you shouldn’t.  If you are allergic to it or it will upset your system in some way, do not eat it, even if it is Aunt Gertrude’s special dish and she makes it every year and it will hurt her feelings if you don’t.  You are not responsible for Aunt Gertrude’s feelings.  (We will discuss that a little later. For now, if you shouldn’t eat it, just don’t do it!)  You will feel better if you do not, and as such, you will behave better.

Use I statements.  When discussing anything sensitive or talking with sensitive people, consider saying things such as, I feel (this way) when (these) things happen.  I react (this way) when (these) circumstances are in place.   As opposed to saying:  You always…….., I can’t believe you would…….., You never…..
‘You’ statements feel more like you are attacking the other person.  ‘I’ statements are simply telling about yourself.  It is difficult to argue with an ‘I’ statement.

—Think of sincere compliments you can give to others in your family, especially when they say something critical of you.  Remember that a soft answer turneth away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)  When someone says something unkind, simply pay them a sincere compliment and see how the feeling in the room changes.

Refuse to take offense.  Remember—your feelings, your responsibility.  Don’t be easily offended, even if they say the same thing every year and it bothers you every year!  This year, chose not to let it bother you.

Talk to your own family.  If there is an issue with my family, I talk to them.  If there is an issue with my husband’s family, he talks to them.

-Prepare the children.  Let them know the plan of the get-together and that the departure time is tentative. That way if you ask them to leave before they are ready, there will not be a huge blow-up because they have unmet expectations.  Compensate them if they really made a sacrifice (they had to leave before dessert was served, without warning….offer them their favorite dessert at home, or another compensation that would ease their feelings of being treated unfairly.)  Also, explain the ‘rules/expectations’ of the event (i.e. I know we feed the dog scraps from our plates at home, but here we cannot do that).

Big Things:
-Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings.  Your feelings are your responsibility.  Their feelings are their responsibility.  That doesn’t mean you can go around and just say whatever you want to or treat people badly.  But if someone says to you, “You always hurt my feelings!”, the truth of the matter is that you cannot hurt their feelings.  They have chosen to have their feelings hurt by their interpretation of something you said or did.  Usually we do not intend to hurt someone else, it just happens.  At those times you can say, ‘what was it I did or said that hurt you?’  Then they will probably not be very nice to you and tell you what it was.  You can correct the misconception or just apologize that their feelings are hurt and indicate that you had no intention of saying something that was hurtful.  [This goes with the Aunt Gertrude example above.  You are not responsible for making her feel good by eating her dish.  If everyone stopped eating it, maybe she would quit making it.  Right?]

Be willing to leave.  If things do not stay nice, or make you uncomfortable, you are free to leave and return home or to the hotel.  If you are staying with your family, take a break and go to the movie or shopping or anything to remove yourself from a negative situation and give yourself a little time to think (even if you are just reading your scriptures in the car!).

Put boundaries in place.  At some of our family gatherings, we have had to say, “We love visiting with all of you and we would like to spend time with  you.  But it is very bad for our children to see (this behavior—at our house it was yelling at each other) and we don’t want that to be a part of our family.  So if (this behavior) happens, we will ask you to leave, or we will leave” (whatever the circumstances may be).  Luckily my husband had that conversation with his family (without me or the children) so it was not embarrassing to them.  Other times, I have had to pull someone aside and say, “Please don’t treat my children that way.  I am very capable of correcting them if it is necessary.”  Then I discussed with my children (later and privately) why the other person’s behavior was inappropriate and evaluated how they are processing what has happened to them.

—Where children are concerned, remember that it is more important to be their parent and teach them properly than it is to please your parents or other family members.  Children should learn to feel comfortable in their own space.  They should not have affections forced on them if they are uncomfortable.  They should not have to eat things because of how someone else feels about it.  Help them learn to be respectful and courteous, but also support them in expressing their appropriate opinions and boundaries.  It is important for their development and for your relationships with them.

If your family is so difficult that you cannot do all of these things, pick a few manageable ones on the list.  Remember, some is better than none.  As your confidence grows, you will be able to put more boundaries in place and nurture your ability to interact with others.  You may find one day to even be able to spend quality time with people you once found toxic.

Happy Holidays and specifically Merry Christmas!!

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