“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Do you ever feel this way around the holidays? Many people do. Expectations are high: Make everything great!
If you and your family celebrate Christmas, chances are you’ve experienced the stress, disappointment, and maybe even “disaster” that can accompany all the childlike cheer and well-intended good tidings.
Families gather whether they like and respect each other or not, presents are purchased whether they can be afforded or not, and the pressure of obligation is heavy and can feel unavoidable. Can you relate?
It’s important that we all take some pressure off of each other — this is a way to be truly kind and “in the spirit.” No one’s year is made or broken depending whether you brought homemade cookies to that work party or not!
Here are few tips that can help you overextend yourself a little less, and enjoy your holiday a little more:
• Say “no” sometimes. This is a skill that can take years to hone, but you gotta start somewhere. A good tip to saying “no” nicely is to start with a “yes.” For example, if you’re invited to a coworker’s shindig, and attending just isn’t a priority for you, try a version of this response: “I’d love to come! That sounds fun. But that week is already crazy for me, so I’m gonna have to miss it. Thank you for the invite!”
People aren’t used to hearing “no.” They often misinterpret “no” to mean: “I don’t like you. I don’t love you. You’re not important to me.” Many people feel offended when they hear “no.” This is why many of us say “yes,” even at times when we know that a “no” would be a better way to care for ourselves and our partner or children.
No matter how warm or respectful you are, you can’t control someone’s reaction, nor is it your job to. That’s not within your control, so just try your best.
Saying “no” respectfully gives you an opportunity to practice courage, sincerity, and adult communication. Also, you’re setting an example of clear, respectful communication, which helps others feel empowered to say “no” when they need to.
• Put time limits on difficult visits. Here’s an example: Your husband really wants to attend a particular cocktail party. For whatever reason, it doesn’t appeal to you, but it’s important to your husband.
Talk to him, and agree on a plan. Tell him you’re happy to go since it’s important to him, but the people/place/plan feels demanding to you. It would help you relax and enjoy the party if the two of you could decide ahead of time how long you’ll be there. Could he be satisfied with two hours? Two-and-a-half? Three? Agree on a length of time, thank him for being on your team, and suck it up. Go have fun, knowing that a) your husband’s got your back, and b) you only have to deal ‘til 8:30!
• Don’t stay with family members who stress you out. This is a tough one, but you can do it. You have to really weigh what’s important to you, and once you identify that, you need to stand up for yourself and your partner and children. Here’s an example: Typically when you go home for Christmas, you, your partner, and your kids stay with your parents. There really isn’t enough physical space for you all to be comfortable, and one or more personalities in the mix can be demanding or insensitive. Since you’re all under one roof, there’s little opportunity for breaks or breathing room. When you look back on visits past, your body feels rushes of anxiety, anger, or dread, and you acknowledge that while you’d like to see your family, you wish you “didn’t have to” stay with them.
Newsflash: you don’t.
Yes, you may be opening a can of worms by renting an Airbnb down the street, and mom and dad may be shocked or offended, at first. You may have to field some guilt trips or accusations. But … weren’t you expecting to deal with that type of thing, anyway? Isn’t that why you’re making an alternate plan? And this time, after a dozen hours of camaraderie around the Christmas tree, you can retreat, rest, regroup, and be in a better mood when you come back tomorrow to do it all over again!
Just do your best. This is what it means to have relationships as a mature adult: identify your (and your partner or children’s) needs and preferences, respect these needs, express them as nicely and directly as possible, and remain available (within reason) for follow-up chats with loved ones.
Good luck and happy holidays. May they be the best yet!
Joy Nickinson, MA, MFT intern, specializes in relationship, communication, and self-care issues.