Holiday season is fast approaching.
Warm, childhood memories come rushing in.
The fragrance of the turkey roasting.
The tartness of the cranberry sauce.
Cinnamon and cloves sharpening the flavor of our pumpkin pie.
Sweet and savory Thanksgiving feasts are often the holy grail of childhood memories.
But now, as mature adults, we’ve weathered many holidays where those cozy memories are all too often overshadowed by those of bending over backwards to accommodate competing expectations, lots of tongue biting and wishful thinking.
The simplicity of childhood memories has been replaced by the more complicated stress of anticipation, by a rising fear of both subtle and overt conflicts spoiling family time together.
No matter how well you try to choreograph events, holiday celebrations, reunions and get-togethers, stepfamily drama is bound to increase during the holiday season.
No matter how accommodating you try to be to the idiosyncrasies, preferences, demands and desires of others, let’s face it, there’s no pleasing everyone.
Even after 12 years together, I’m still learning how to manage my own thoughts and feelings during the complicated dance in my stepfamily during the holiday season.
While for the better part of the year we are used to being the star of our own lives, during the holiday season, we are often bit players or, at best, supporting actors. Someone else is calling the shots.
Are you anticipating family drama during the holiday season?
Dysfunctional families are, in fact, normal families. Whether you’re talking about your bio family or your stepfamily.
And when the two families combine, often the outcome can range anywhere from awkward to incendiary.
Not the prettiest picture. Not the all American Norman Rockwell painting.
More like a family gone bad on a Saturday Night Live skit.
Here’s the secret to having a better holiday season this year: Prepare for family events in advance.
How many times has this happened to you?
As the old cliche goes: Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Don’t get caught up in stepfamily drama without an action plan.
Before you’ve even give thought to what outfit you’re going to wear, make advance planning a priority. Decide in advance how you’re going to deal with family drama.
#1: Tame Your Expectations
It’s hard to give up hoping that family members will act like decent human beings.
So, acknowledge your expectations and prepare some comforting go-to thoughts that help take the edge off your frustrations.
These should be believable thoughts that allow you to accept these characters as they are, even if/when they behave badly.
Cut the strings of emotional manipulation.
#2: Decide on Whatever Boundaries You Need to Establish for Yourself Preservation
Check out my previous post about boundaries to get a clear understanding of when and how to set them.
While it’s probably a given that your stepfamily members will act like their same old selves, it’s best to to decide in advance how you want to manage your feelings around them.
Do not try to scramble at the last minute to figure out helpful thoughts once things become uncomfortable or heated.
- How much contact with them you do you really want?
- Are there certain relatives you simply can’t tolerate?
- Are there others you can handle in group settings but not one-on-one?
- How much time and intimacy with your family is enough? How much is too much?
Explore various boundary options until you come up with plans that give you maximum control of the situation.
Decide on your strategies. What if you:
- Planned to leave after no more than X amount of hours? How many can you commit to?
- Rent a car so that you could get away without relying on relatives for transportation?
- Had someone call or text your cell phone at an appointed time, providing an excuse for a graceful exit?
#3: Loosen the Reins on Control
So when you’re in the middle of a holiday feast, enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and your sister-in-law leans over and whispers, “Are you sure you really should be eating that?”
And you give her the side-eye and she responds, eyebrows lifted in mock surprise, “I’m just trying to help.”
Oh, really? What’s a woman to do?
Just remember this: Any attempt you make to control other people actually puts you under their control.
If you can’t be at peace with your sister-in-law until she finally stops making passive-aggressive remarks about your weight, you have allowed her to control you and your well-being.
You could spend the rest of your life trying, but you’ll never control her real thoughts and feelings. Never, ever.
Feel what you feel. Know what you know. Allow your relatives to do the same.
Rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, antagonizing behavior is a reflection of them and the chaos in their minds.
Acknowledge that you, and only you, have the ability to stop making their behavior mean anything about you.
Whatever the situation, celebrate that you have control over your own thoughts and actions. Interpret any dysfunctional behavior as their problem, not yours.
#4: Become the Curious Watcher
It’s really funny how people can become absolutely fascinating when you observe them in action.
The more atrocious your family’s behavior is, the funnier it can be in the retelling. Watch stand-up comics to see the enormous fun they can have describing appalling marriages, ghastly parenting, or poisonous family secrets. When you’re back among friends, telling your own wild stories, you may find that you no longer suffer from your family’s brand of insanity; you’ve actually started to enjoy it.
#5: Study the good, the bad and the ugly
Follow up your trying family events by writing a targeted Thought Download that captures key memories of the event.
Once you’ve written your thoughts down on paper, decide what went well, what went haywire and what you plan to do better next time.
Want help preparing for your dysfunctional family holiday drama?
I’ve got you!
Let’s start designing your personalized strategies to deal with all the things you are dreading this holiday season.
Don’t waste another minute worrying about how awful it could be.
You can make this holiday season the best one ever. Click right here to get started on your strategies.
This just may be the best holiday present you’ll ever give yourself.