The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, a time when friends and family come together to celebrate. Celebrate each other. Celebrate life. Celebrate love. It’s a time to create new memories and celebrate old ones.
But everyone knows family events can quickly lead to challenges. It’s so commonplace that it has been the focal point of a variety of movies, TV shows and even SNL skits. The well-intentioned aunt who keeps asking why you’re single. The uncle who indulges a little too much and brings up hot button issues as conversation over dinner. The religious or political zealot who uses the holiday to grandstand or overshare their beliefs. The relative who drops their kids in another room and departs hastily with some excuse as to why the kids are now someone else’s problem.
It can be easy to let this behavior get the best of you, to feel angry or feel like a victim. But remember: you have the ability to choose your response, to intentionally decide how your next moment will be.
To do this in a way that is productive to you and those around you, answer these questions:
- How do I want this event to be? Consider the quote “Begin with the end in mind.” After leaving your family function, how do you want to feel? What memories do you want to create? Though you can’t control the entire event (or everyone’s moods), you have complete control over your own moods, emotions and actions. Consider how you want the event to be to you and make it your intention to make that outcome happen. You can feel this even if others don’t.
- What are my triggers? You know yourself and you know your family. Ask yourself if there is anything – behaviors, topics, etc. – that would make you angry, upset or frustrated. Know what those triggers are and prepare yourself to create a productive response to those triggers. Avoid reacting. Be self-managed. If you know your uncle aggravates you, what topics do you have prepared to redirect a conversation, or how will you make more time in the kitchen or some other area where you can stay away from the overly critical aunt? Plan ahead.
- Where is my line? At some point, even the greatest preparation might not be enough. And that’s ok! Everyone is unique; it’s part of what makes this world so great. But it can also introduce challenges and may result in some people butting heads. Ask yourself at what point can you no longer ignore, tolerate or try to diffuse a situation. At what point does the situation become toxic for you and any relationships in play? Identify your line and know how you will respond when that line is approached or crossed. Sometimes, it’s as easy as leaving. Sometimes, it requires a little more grace. Prepare yourself for what that could look like and have a plan when it arrives. This way you can stay calm and carry out your plan to keep yourself sane and mentally well.
Spend some time getting to know yourself – your strengths, triggers and blind spots. Being aware of them creates the opportunity to better manage them (you can’t manage what you don’t see or know). This will help you more calmly and successfully navigate family functions. The calmer, saner and happier you are will allow you to enjoy the holidays and maybe even inspire others to do the same.
Consider reading Don’t Panic (Until it’s Time to Panic)