Do you look forward to the holiday season and time spent in close quarters with your family?
Or do you prepare for the inevitable festive together time by planning how you will manage and making back-up plans in case things go pear-shaped and you need a quick exit?
The holiday season can bring up mixed feelings as although you may look forward to seeing your relatives, close proximity can wear thin festive cheer as family dynamics raise their challenging head.
But wouldn’t it be truly joyous if you could look forward to family time for a change? Even relish it a little?
What would be your holiday bliss?
When families come together there is a mixed bag of wants and needs – and they’re not always compatible.
But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up your emotional armour, be miserable or just “make it through”.
What it does mean is that a diverse range of expectations need to be acknowledged – and managed.
I realised a few years ago that my family and I have different ideas of what time together should look like.
So after a few days of everyone being on their best behaviour, everyone started to assert their wants and needs. Often they were conflicting so tensions would rise, which would end in tears, and then we’d all calm down but feel a bit bruised and like we needed to tiptoe around each other thereafter.
And none of us actually wanted that. We just were stuck in a cycle and hadn’t thought about how to do it differently.
My family is no different to most so I’m sure you have probably had a similar experience or have a friend who looks to the holidays with trepidation.
But, I’m happy to report, with a bit of forethought, a bit of preparation, it can be a whole lot different.
How to have a harmonious holiday
This year I decided to approach the holidays differently – and it has been the most harmonious, joyful and fun time we’ve ever had together.
So if you’re looking to relate with your family members on a more loving level, here are a few ideas that could turn your festive family time into something you look forward to (if you don’t already that is!)
- Acknowledge everyone’s expectations
This was the first step for me. Disharmony is often caused by different expectations of each other and different ideas of what makes a good holiday. So I sat down and thought about what my parents might be expecting of me, and me of them, and where those expectations could clash. I also had a think about where things had gone awry in the past (as there’s often a pattern) and that highlighted several points of potential friction
- Verbalise wants and needs
Next I hopped on the phone with my family and suggested that since things could often get fraught when we got together, that perhaps it was a good idea for us to talk about what we each wanted out of our time together. (You can float the idea and suggest talking about it another time, or launch straight in if they’re willing.)
They were open to the idea so we started by sharing concerns, or what we each felt could get in the way of us having a harmonious holiday.
For instance, my mum was worried about how I would react to certain things, so together we came up with a plan for what we would do if that situation came up. Rather than react in my usual ways, I would ask her a question to clarify what was going on. We both felt relief knowing we had a plan in place.
For my part, I shared that this was an actual holiday for me, so I would behave like I was on holiday, and what that looked like (a lot of doing nothing lol). So we talked specifics about meals, outtings, and the like, and negotiated a middle ground where both our needs could get met.
- Share your intention
Most important of all though, was I shared with my parents what I did want our time together to look like. This wasn’t something I had done before and I think verbalising the fact that I wanted us to enjoy each other’s company, have fun, feel relaxed and not be at loggerheads, really reassured them and put them at ease. I got them to say out loud what they wanted from our time together too.
- Check-in often
When I first arrived I did a quick check-in to make sure our agreed plans were still hunky dory. Nothing big, just a casual reference to our chat and that I felt really great that we’d had that talk and was looking forward to our holiday! (This opens the door incase there are any tweaks or other concerns that have come up since you talked about it.) I did another check-in a few days later, and this just gives everyone the opportunity to voice issues before they get too big, if there are any.
The result – the most relaxed, fun holiday I have ever had with my family.
Preparation and intention doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly, but it does provide a positive focus, a group goal, and a framework for working things out if they go awry.
If something feels a little off, just check in. Talk about your agreed goal (having a harmonious holiday), ask them if that’s what they still want, what do they need to make that happen, and then negotiate to see if you can find a mutually agreeable solution.
What techniques have worked for you to ensure you look forward to festive family time? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
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