family marriage counseling & therapy

Recovering from Holiday Preparation and Family Visits: Lessons for the New Year

As January closes and life returns to normal, you may find yourself reflecting on this past holiday season. With errands to run, presents to buy, parties to attend, homes to decorate, and food to prepare, your November and December were likely filled with the typical hustle and bustle that accompany the end of each year.

If your family is like many others, the additional stress of visiting loved ones during the holidays can add strain to an already on-edge household. Even if your family visits did not go as planned during the holidays, there are still lessons to be learned and important takeaways to carry into the New Year.

Preparing for future visits

As your nuclear family prepares to visit members of your extended family, it is normal for everyone to feel a range of emotions. Even with no bad blood or buried issues, members of your family may still feel nervous or anxious about the visit. Often, living far away from family means only seeing or talking with them a few times each year, which means extra pressure is placed on holiday family get-togethers.

Using this past year’s experiences as guidance, take a realistic look at what your family can change in order to make future visits more low-key:

  • Budget for travel expenses and book hotels and plane tickets far enough in advance to avoid last-minute hiccups.
  • Be honest about how much time you have to give. If you will only be with extended family for a few hours or a few days, do not expect to finish everything on your wish list. Focus on a handful of small, inexpensive activities that will include everyone in the group, and make sure there is enough downtime to counteract the higher stress levels that may accompany the events.
  • Do not stir the pot—decide ahead of time to not discuss any issues that will cause contention or hard feelings between family members. You do not have to sugarcoat every little thing, but save large, emotional conversations for another time.

Go out of your comfort zone. If you are not as close with certain siblings, or if your kids hardly know half their cousins, make a conscious effort to branch out and spend time with different family members. You will both make new friends and avoid having the same, annual arguments with your go-to family members all at once.

Readjusting your expectations

Families are made up of imperfect people who make mistakes, but holiday family visits are not the time to focus on them. As your family prepares to spend time with loved ones, it is important to readjust your expectations about what the visit really means. Thanksgiving dinners and holiday gift exchanges do not provide the appropriate setting or amount of time for pulling skeletons out of closets, and it is unrealistic to expect that lifelong sibling rivalries or parental issues will be resolved in a matter of hours. If you go into a holiday visit expecting that all conflicts have been pushed aside and that relationships have been magically strengthened, you will undoubtedly be in for a disappointment.

Focus on the positive

Rather than anticipating that the holidays will erase years of history, focus on the positives that can come from spending time with your loved ones. The holiday season is a time to combine old traditions with new beginnings, and there is no better place to turn for inspiration than to your extended family. In the short amount of time you have together, choose to share stories, memories, recipes, photographs, and friendships—not disappointment, blame, guilt, anger, or sadness.

It takes sacrifice and honest effort from everyone involved to make a large family unit work, and problems will rarely if ever be solved during a small holiday visit. Your relationships with your loved ones may never be perfect or even ideal, but your family members can do their part to make visits more enjoyable. Change what you can, accept what you can’t change, and love everyone anyway.

If problems with family members are affecting your life and you need help, please contact me for a 20 minute free consultation at 650-692-9664.