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10 Ways to Have a Happy Family Holiday

Make the most of your holiday gathering.

As America prepares for visits with loved ones this holiday season, you may be excited to be reunited with family you haven’t seen in a while. You may also be feeling some anxiety: Perhaps you have rocky relationships with a family member or two or you are simply stressed about hosting relatives over the holidays. For some, the holidays may be filled with both joyous and nervous anticipation.

It is important to remember that each family member carries something that is unique and relevant to the whole. As a result, each family member’s expectations may influence his or her perceptions. Thus, with a pinch of gratitude, a dash of empathy, and a heaping helping of compassion, you will find that home is where the heart is.

Here are some tips that can help your holiday experience reuniting with family members be a happy one.

1. Be tolerant and flexible in how you perceive your family members. Remember the perfect family does not exist, even on TV.

2. Have a plan that contains ground rules for holiday fun. If you are the hostess of a holiday gathering, you can communicate to all guests ahead of time that your home is a “safe zone,” a place for fun and family but not for resurrecting painful issues, squabbles, or historical injuries. Meet your guests at the door and remind them that once they cross the threshold all family problems must be left behind. As the song goes: “Grab your coat and grab your hat, leave your troubles on your doorstep.”

3. Delegate. No one host can do it all by him or herself. There’s an axiom of psychology that if you let others do things for you, they will like you more because they feel invested. Feel free to ask for help in the kitchen and let a cousin, aunt, or grandparent bring his or her favorite dish to dinner. This also gives them a chance to receive both attention and compliments for their contribution.

4. Take a time-out. Whether you are visiting a relative’s home for the holidays or you are entertaining, remember to take time out for yourself. If you are headed for someone’s home, leave yourself 30 minutes before for engaging socially, by meditating, having a warm bath, drinking a hot cup of tea, or just closing your eyes for a few minutes. Feeling tired makes you more fragile. Tired and fragile people often make mistakes, get cranky, and become magnets for trouble. If you are the hostess, the same rules apply. Take time out for yourself before guests arrive, so that you can manage your stress and have the energy necessary for socializing.

5. Reduce alcohol intake. When confronted with family, resist the temptation to drink alcohol in order to calm your nerves. Too much alcohol will reduce your inhibitions and allow you to say and do something you may be sorry for.

6. Resist acting out for approval. Instead of making you feel better, or more successful, competitive bragging only makes you feel diminished and demeaned.

7. Postpone business talks and intimate questions. Just because someone asks you something, doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything. Practice and rehearse ahead of time simple phrases, such as, “Let’s talk about it next week when we’re not with the family,” or “I’ll call you later and we can chat about it.” Remember it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

8. Be tolerant. Give your relatives the benefit of the doubt. Remember, when families come together, they often have unrealistic goals for one another and may try to recreate childhood fantasies. This can prompt regressive and childish behavior. So step back, breathe in, and give others the benefit of the doubt.

9. Don’t ambush family members with your problems. Holiday get-togethers should be the one time you can gather and suspend all problems and judgment.

10. Make it easy on yourself. Less time in the kitchen affords you more time to feel the love that only family get-togethers can bring. Without any extra financial expenditure, you can buy foods that are premade or found on a shelf. Many stores now offer complete holiday meals, from the appetizers to the main course to dessert. Make only what you enjoy, and simply purchase the rest.

In the end, it is your time together that counts. Go easy on yourself—and on your guests—and enjoy your family time this holiday season.

More from Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed.
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