From the Butterball ads, to the movies and TV specials. Tis the season to be Jolly, fa,la,la,la,la,la la la. Where everyone makes it on time to cut the perfect Turkey. We are sucked in by perfect images of flawless food and the perfect families. Its all kisses and hugs…Ahhhh, what a crock!
Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family is the most joyous time of the year and for most families it is. However for other families what starts out as joyous become out and out warfare with pre-heated words and fists, leaving some members to question why they came.
Christmas is the most seductive holiday of the year. The lights, the music, the joy many people believe in the power of Christmas,on this day everything will be better. It a day of peace, men and women ,boys and girls will set aside their differences and there will be love,love,
If this is your family,you should stop reading here.
This is for the rest of us, the people who want to believe in power of Christmas but have families who make us crazy.
During my freshmen year in college I heard great stories from other students going home for Christmas. The talk of food and love and traditions, I was swept away. I saved all my coins to insure everyone received a gift. I begged a friend to get me to Greyhound so I could catch an early bus to the bay. I couldn’t wait to see my mom, nephew and nieces.
45 minutes after getting off the bus, I wanted to return to school. It seems I had created a new family in my mind. I had created a black version of ” The Walton”s a popular television program at the time. That fantasy crashed and burned, there was a breech in the family,a lot of people were angry and to make matter worse, there wasn’t a plan B . Being away in college my friends had made other plans. No caroling, no midnight gift openings. After the Christmas meal some members of my family started to turn on me. My weight, my hair, my speech.
The Christmas/Thanksgiving tradition repeated itself for many years. For the most part it’s great, seeing members of the family-meeting new members. However lurking in the shadows are individuals who use THE HOLIDAYS as a platform to remind you of what THEY believe is your shortcomings .
Take a Breath
This action is usually pre-planned and often quietly supported by other family members who simply want to know why you haven’t married? Why you should go on a diet like your sister. ( I have this cookbook!) Or go back to school.
Family members who used the happy,happy, holidays, to revisit events that happened decades ago and share those events with new members of the family and visitors. These and other holiday rituals that creep under our skin and make us crazy, is often forgotten until the next holiday.
A Family Theme Song:
( Ain’t no drama like family drama ,cause family drama don’t stop!)
For years, I often wondered why my family made me so crazy. After all I am a professional, I’ve successfully worked directly with the public for decades. So why do these people reduce a 6 foot 4 baby boomer into a screaming ten year old?
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History and expectations Unlike strangers, we have history with family and with that comes certain expectations. It’s an understanding, and sensitivity that generally doesn’t exist with persons outside of family. Unfortunately that understanding and sensitivity isn’t guaranteed within the family.
The truth is, there are siblings and other family members who simply don’t like each other, never have and never will. Family resentments often last a lifetime. Siblings can often clearly remember events that go back more than seven or eight decades and once a year those dormant events resurface during family events. While some people are able move on, others simmer. So after the gifts are exchanged , after the hugs, after the second round of dinner, simmer increases to boil and let the rumble begin.
Sucking it up for the Holidays
First things first…We have to realize we are unable to change anyone. If there is a change, it has to come from us.
Who do you become at these family gatherings?
Mildly Irritated(MI)-doesn’t really get to you
Extremely Irritated(EI)– takes you days-weeks to shake the family gathering .
A screaming banshee(BS)– You lose compete control and vow never to return.
Fists of thunder(FT)-you have gotten into physical altercations with family members .
A week before the family gathering , you will need a plan of action.
Do not share your plans with other family members as there are moles every where! Including Ma, Pa and Peggy
Knowing and managing your Triggers
When are you going to settle down and get married?
Are you still working at that job?
I expected your life to turn out differently..etc,etc, etc
(Write them down)
Every family have a natural rhythm, I could almost set my watch to certain events in my family. They would often take place a couple of hours after dinners often accelerated with alcohol, the players are the same every year.
Memorize the players in your family, they rarely change. Prepare yourself for the triggers, rehearse your non combative response.
I have a friend who limits his visit with his family to two and half hours He calls the last half hour “The Sharpening of the Knives”. No matter how much fun he is having,he limits his visit to two and half hours… 10 minutes longer and someone takes out a knife.
Why don’t you have that wart removed ,once you have that ugly thing removed and get that tooth straightened out and buy some clothes that don’t have that cheap look your’ll be better.
Remember you can’t change your family. You can only change how you react to them.
Warning: This isn’t easy and its very possible you may fail on the first attempt. Just remember your changing a lifetime.
Sharing the suffering
Here I begin with a question? If you needed emergency therapy after spending Thanksgiving or Christmas last year with the family. (I say or because only a reality show masochist would double dip) Why would you invite a friend,girlfriend or boyfriend to accompany you this year. The friend WHO you clearly lied to when you told them it would be NICE!
I love the stories about everyone staying in the home and experiencing holidays together. Cooking together or opening up packages at midnight. Its a great tradition. But its not for everyone. It’s very important to place your needs over the desires of the family(unless of course they agree to pay your shrink bill). Consider getting a hotel/motel room. I find it to be an oasis in the valley of the kray,kray. When the volume increases, I begin make a plate and yawn several times ooh-I really must be tired and head to room 212 with a closing yawn-I’ll see you in the morning-love you. Then you turn off your cell phone and tell the front desk to send calls to voice mail. (ooh I fell asleep) . Trust me- at least two people will rush to tell you what you’ve missed.
The room is really important for your friend. He/she and the children don’t necessarily need to see you in super Kray form. They don’t share your history, why put them through it. My wife and family would get a large suite and sometimes sneak out to the movies.
Because I’ve been a victims of painful memories I am both watchful and mindful of what I say to my family and I run interference for those who want to inflect pain on others. You have to be mindful of the painful smile.
Changing The Script (New Traditions)
We have been seduced… From movies to Commercials that the holidays is everything and you must be with your family. This is what we are supposed to do right? But what is your family is less Waltons or Huxtables and more Bundy.
The harshest realty is, the realization that some of our families are toxic. Year after year,we return because this is what we know, its how its always been. It never occurred to us we have another option. So we go hoping for that Brady setting and sometimes return in shambles. Worst of all, we take OUR children to these events infecting them.
Not only do they have to bare witness to our annual dismantling. We are creating a new normal for them.
For some families, normal is screaming, fighting and manipulation. While visitors are shocked, it’s just another family event, where someone pulls out a knife, threatening to kill another family member. Another Christmas dinner were everyone swears.
If these joyous family events leaves you anxious, depressed and sad. You may want to consider not attending at all.
Again, a lot of us attend events, because it something we’ve always done and there isn’t anything wrong with that if you enjoy that family event. But if its painful for you and YOUR branch of the family, there aren’t rules that say you have to attend.
Instead of modeling bad behavior for our children, we started our own traditions. Cartoons, movies, a billion and one desserts. One year our holiday meal was turkey, they next ham, one year pizza. No one needed therapy because we didn’t have the traditional meal and it was less work . One of our best Thanksgivings was in a Burger King. Today our children are grown. They didn’t share our history of family and one day they will create their own Traditions, hopefully filled with joy and laughter.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the 365 days a year. If you choose not to share those holidays with your family and siblings, it is NOT a reflection of your love . It means you that you’ve chosen you. Try not to allow others to make you feel less than, because your chosen your sanity over a family event that leaves you shaken and stirred. Be gracious, you can still share gifts.
Breaking free may not be easy. The guilt control machine will be launched-everyone is expecting you! Especially by your siblings who feel, if they have to suffer, you must attend! Aunt Pearl will be so hurt, you know this may be her last Christmas,she loves you so much!) and turn off all phone until the day after. Then feel free to call. If you get a call, take control by keeping the call short no long or extended conversations involving the past. We or I am not going…. Love you, bye!! They take control by keeping you one the phone. Remember, Choose you! Choose your family.
The Holidays like every day can be a loving joyous affair. Take control and make it happen!!
Life ends in an instant. Choose Joy.
Meanwhile B Safe