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Holiday Family Survival Guide

With the holidays quickly approaching, many people will find themselves with a seasonal case of irritation and discomfort just thinking about spending time with family. Like Cinderella as the clock hits midnight, your comfortable polished sense of self quickly fringes and unravels when returning to the context of family. Perhaps you find yourself snapping at others, stuck in disagreement, or off hiding somewhere until it all passes. This is a quick survival guide for those who have chosen to return home this year. Spending time with family, why do we do it?  Some of us might say, “because I have to. I don’t really have a choice. If I don’t what will they say”. When something becomes the habitual “thing to do” we often have the sense that we aren’t making a choice. Step number one in surviving this holiday season is to give yourself some credit. You are making a choice, and there is likely a very honorable reason to do so.

When you choose to get together, you are valuing family.  So, what’s the big deal with that? Perhaps something tells you this is important to do, despite that fact that it isn’t always easy going? If you search your past memories, you might find examples of times when family really has mattered. Many of those memories are precious, they might bring a smile to your face, and if you have lost someone, it probably still hurts. Those feelings are real and important. It’s why we keep reaching out and trying. How might you feel about yourself, if you consider yourself a person who is actively choosing family? Somebody who is able to take on challenge because it feels important to do. Is that a trait that you would feel good about? If so, give yourself credit for making that choice. When we go see family they are sure to be different, and different can feel difficult.  Our disagreements can range from politics to religion, how to handle things in the kitchen, or what the definition of “on time” is. We’re also face-to-face, so the safety of Facebook for slinging mud is removed. So here is the second area to give yourself credit for. Our differences make up our diversity, and by making room for your family to be different, you are valuing diversity.  How do we benefit if we are all the same? How does that work out in the real world? What do we stand to gain when we lean on each other’s strengths and challenge each other in seeking balance? In order to do that we must embrace differences. It’s tempting to say, “well sure I value diversity, but not THAT kind”!  Just how much control do we have over our difference from others? The answer here should be easy, it’s zero control. You can grab the tug-of-war rope on this issue, hold on tight and pull, but in your experience how does this usually work out? When has persistently resisting someone worked to change them? Drop the rope this holiday season.  No matter how hard you pull, you cannot force that change. Holding on to the rope takes your energy and squanders your attention. Your attention can serve you much better if you direct it towards the things you feel gratitude for this year. This is a great time to stop and take a few deep breaths. How does holding tightly onto being right make you the kind of family member you would like to be? How would dropping the rope and re-centering on why you love that person help you in being the family you value? Next on the list of anxieties, what if you already know something is going to be unpleasant? You are already thinking about a known factor, something that is definitely going to happen, and definitely going to suck. To start with we can look inward and say, “I’m sorry you are having to go through this”. This isn’t a wallowing in pity statement, but a chance to step back and recognize that you are going to endure something unpleasant, and that does suck. Acknowledging this feeling of remorse can help free up some space to hold your pain more gently. From this place, you understand that you may need a second at times to take a break. It is with an understanding of the effort it is taking for you to show up that you may find it easier to excuse yourself for not being perfectly charming or on point. If you found a bird with an injured wing, would it not make sense to hold it gently, do what you can to help, and understand if it doesn’t sing you a song? Remembering to drop the rope with things outside your control, redirect then to use your hands to hold your pain softly and with some understanding. In summary, during the tough moments, this year take a second to breathe and give yourself credit for your choices. Drop the rope when it isn’t getting you anywhere, and celebrate yourself as the person who is showing up. It may not all be pretty, but you can feel good about yourself and your choices. Wellbeing comes from doing what’s important, especially when it is most challenging.

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