The most wonderful time of the year is just around the corner, and for many of us that means a whole lot of food, plenty of good cheer, and going “home for the holidays.” Whether we split time between parents and stepparents, in-laws or extended family, the time spent with relatives almost always includes a little bit of drama. Navigating the tricky waters of adulting alongside your own parents can be difficult, especially when holiday stress is high and sugar consumption are through the roof. As you prepare to enter this beautiful, fun, and sometimes rocky time of year, try these suggestions to cultivate a peaceful and harmonious family gathering.
Lower your expectations
The Hallmark Channel hasn’t done anybody any favors in churning out countless picture-perfect holiday movies—you know the ones: a cozy cabin in the woods, blanketed with a slight layer of snow (but of course, not enough to cause any travel delays), a warmly lit kitchen inside, and finally, a family free of any real drama. Most of our family holidays look nothing like this, and the discrepancy between Hollywood holidays and reality can make some of us a little Scroogy. If you’re expecting something specific—whether it’s an idyllic scene or a completely flawless eight-course meal, remind yourself that nothing is going to be perfect! Expect hiccups in your plans, and be thankful for any good thing that comes your way. Christmas is about love and togetherness, not the perfect celebration, and if you have something specific in mind about what the holiday will look like, chances are you may be letdown. Instead, cultivate an attitude of gratitude for any and every good thing, and let the rest roll off your back.
Whether it’s marathon family time or hours spent cooking in the kitchen, sometimes the seasonal festivities can leave us feeling exhausted and a little empty. If you’re someone who needs alone time to recharge, excuse yourself from gatherings for a little while to take some. Head outside for a walk, retreat to a back room for a one-on-one conversation with a favorite cousin, or go ahead and leave a few minutes early. Whatever you need to do to feel healthy and calm—do it! You’ll be able to be more present and give your best self to your family, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself more, too. Take time to pray for those you’ll be spending time with, and for yourself—it’s amazing how God can change your own heart with a few moments of uninterrupted prayer. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you need to neglect your own well-being, and a more peaceful you will mean a more peaceful holiday.
Remember that you’re in charge of you
You know that prayer “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change?” Well, now’s the time to remember that one! Family drama can rear its ugly head when everybody gets together, and it’s easy to let emotional baggage get you down. Now isn’t the time to discuss politics, money, past hurts, etc. Inevitably, contentious issues do sometimes arise when lots of people are together, but remind yourself that you’re not going to change anyone else, especially not over Christmas ham. Aunt Mildred pestering you about settling down? Politely remind her that your personal life is not a topic for discussion around the Christmas table. Rather than letting inappropriate discussions or provocations bother you, try letting it all roll off your back—focus on your own response, your own heart and your own peace.
Set (reasonable) boundaries
If you have small children, oftentimes their bedtimes and routines will be disturbed by family celebrations. Maybe you have in-laws who you’ll be visiting throughout the day or the week. Set boundaries for your time, and tell your family what works for you and your immediate family members—be firm about what your non-negotiable needs are, and let the rest go. If you’re up front about what your necessities are, you’re bound to have a smoother holiday.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo and forget to value the time with family that you don’t normally get during the holidays. Laughter is the best drama diffuser, so find ways to create space for it. Put down those phones and be present to those around you. Play music in the kitchen while everyone cooks, break out a board game, get outside and play some frisbee or watch some hilarious YouTube videos together. Find whatever works to get your heart rates up and your faces smiling, and good cheer being had by all!
Originally published on December 18, 2017.