Ten Tips to Make Holidays Happy Days

Judy Osborne, Director, Stepfamily Associates

While there’s an expectation of joy at the holidays, it’s often accompanied by dread.  Is it just the stress of having twice as many things to do, or are some of us anxious about family gatherings? I asked Judy Osborne, Counselor, Marriage and Family therapist and Director of Stepfamily Associates, to share her tips for handling difficult holiday family situations, including managing stepfamily issues, substance abusers and just plain old family tension. You can listen to all her insights and suggestions in the interview below.  

MP3 File

If you’re in a rush (after all, it’s the holidays!) Here are my top ten highlights: 

1)    Manage Your Expectations.Don’t judge your situation by what you see in the media. There is no perfect holiday celebration. Don’t expect your holiday to look or feel like a movie, a Courier and Ives greeting card or a holiday TV show.  That’s make-believe. 

2)    Create your own joy. Know what makes a happy holiday for you. Make a list of the things that you want to do (caroling, spending time with a friend, or working out) for yourself to create a festive holiday and make them happen. Create time outside of family activities if necessary. 

3)    Prepare for, and use an ally in tense family situations.  When we spend time with our family, we often fall back into old patterns and roles.  Before the event, consider pitfalls you may encounter: the old argument with the sister, the drunken uncle, the nasty in-law, whatever it is. Then, ask a friend, a spouse or someone you trust to either come with you or be available for a call if you need a moment to get perspective should that situation arise. Take a time out and talk with your ally. That person knows and respects you as the adult you are, separate from the family, so ask him or her to help you regain your bearings if the going gets tough. 

4)    Watch your attitude. If you bring a bad attitude and expect the worst, you may affect others, who then may bring your concerns to fruition. Instead, be curious.  Act like a scientist and allow yourself to enter with an open mind.  Should the worst actually happen, ask yourself, can you interrupt your usual response and creatively consider the situation? Can you call your ally? 

5)    Make amends later.  It’s usually not the end of the world if things do get out of control. Don’t beat yourself up. You can repair later after you’ve regained your composure. 

6)    Be inventive about traditions.  Chances are, your family make-up has changed over the years and the celebrations can’t look the way they did when you were a kid. There may be step-kids or new relatives, so allow for creative, inventive solutions and talk about them openly with others in the family.  They may not like it at first, but not talking may be worse. 

7)    Incorporate inclusive, new traditions.  As a host, ask each event attendee the one thing that you could do or serve that helps it feel like a holiday for them.  At Thanksgiving, maybe it’s a special dish for each person, or at Christmas, it’s displaying two different religious symbols to accommodate everyone. Whatever it is, don’t overwhelm yourself trying to please everyone, but see if you can include something small that stimulates happy memories for all. 

8)    Don’t focus on the substance abuser. If there is a substance abuser present, prepare (with at least one ally in the group) how you might handle a problem if one occurs.  According to Osborne, it’s not productive to try to reason with the person once they are drunk or high, so see if you can take the focus away from that person and instead find a way to enjoy the people who came to celebrate together.  

9)    Give yourself space. If you have an extended stay and there’s a lot of tension, see if you can sleep somewhere else, like a motel or another friend’s home to give yourself some space. 

10)  Listen to the interview. Osborne offers more ideas and more details about how to cope with difficult family holidays.    

 For more information on dealing with substance abusers in your family, Al-Anon  is a terrific resource.   Osborne also recommends a book called “The High Functioning Alcoholic.”   Also, Osborne’s website   is an excellent resource. Look for her book, Wisdom for Separated Parents expected spring 2011! 

 Much joy to you for your holidays!

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Date: Sunday, 21. November 2010 21:14
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