Licensed Psychotherapist
Licensed psychotherapist Julie Hanks, LCSW was recently recognized as the number one online depression influencer by Sharecare for her extensive work promoting mental health resources online. Hanks has over 20 years in the mental…
A Holiday Recipe for Less Family Drama
Posted in Family Issues by Julie Hanks, LCSW on Dec 07, 2012
What comes to mind when you think of family holiday gatherings? I think of festive décor, gathering around the dinner table for fun conversation and of course, enjoying delicious food. But whatever your holiday traditions, it’s likely that your family gatherings will be sprinkled with a few tense moments and misunderstandings.

As the second of nine children married to a man with five siblings, I know a thing or two about family drama during the holidays.

Though my own personal experience, coupled with professional experience working with families for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned a few helpful strategies for navigating those occasional stressful situations that come whenever families gather.

Accept that everyone will not be happy

While ideal holiday celebrations are associated with happiness, remember that it’s not your job to make everyone happy. I once worked with a couple that traditionally had several family members stay at their home for a week during Christmastime. Having just having had a new baby, this couple was not feeling up to having houseguests, yet they were hesitant to take a stand for fear of hurting family members’ feelings. They felt relieved at the thought that they were “allowed” to take a break from hosting family members, and that it was okay if their family was disappointed that they had to stay at a hotel this year. I reminded them of one of my favorite sayings, “No one ever died from disappointment.”

Start a different tradition

One of the beauties of being an adult is that you get to choose what you want to do. Just because your family has always spent New Year’s Eve at aunt Josie’s house doesn’t mean that it always has to be that way. As families evolve, traditions can change with them. Family traditions are meant to promote family bonding. If you are feeling like you don’t have a choice in how you celebrate the holidays, it may be time to start a tradition of your own.

Act like a grownup, even when you don’t feel like one

Have you ever noticed how family gatherings have a tendency to bring out old patterns and roles? A 50-year-old man can magically transform back into that older teenage brother who used to tease you mercilessly. Or that little sister can shift from a respected adult into a spoiled little girl. If old family patterns resurface, leaving you feeling like (or acting like) a child, remind yourself that you can chose not to revert back to playing your childhood role.

Look out for your own

One of the trickiest parts of navigating holidays is deciding which events to attend when scheduling conflicts arise. I find it helpful to think of family expectations in terms of concentric circles. In the center are your own preferences; the next ring is your partner’s expectations, then your children’s, and finally, your extended family’s. Relationships that are under your direct care need to be considered with more weight than the expectations of your family of origin or extended family.

Assume that others have good intentions

Even if you are well prepared to handle family drama, it may sneak up on you without warning. An offhand comment about your parenting skills (or lack thereof) or a sister-in-law forgetting to buy a gift for your family may catch you off guard. To fend off potential drama, I’ve found it helpful to make up a story in my mind that makes another person’s potentially hurtful behavior make sense. Thinking, “Oh, I know she’s had a difficult time caring for a sick mom” helps me to not take offense and get sucked into family drama. Assuming others’ missteps are underscored by good intentions will help you have a happier holiday.

- Julie Hanks


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If only my husband could understand this...... He's an adult who still does what he HAS to do because it's a LONG tradition in his family, not what he chooses to do for his own happiness/life and calls me selfish for encouraging us to start our own traditions.... Stuck under a rock.
By klmcdan  Dec 29, 2012
Great suggestions! If I may add one of my own:

Imagine the worst, then when things turn out better than that, be very happy and thankful for how well it went. If they actually turn out as bad as you imagine, realize that your imagination is lacking somehow.
By Fern RL  Dec 12, 2012
wonderful suggestion!
By Demax  Dec 10, 2012
Insanity is hereditary.

I think I will celebrate with those who have the capacity to care and who will give me at least the respect of a stranger for starters.
By tigertales  Dec 09, 2012
hahahahahaha nope, no one dies from disappointment! Thank you
By drwho546  Dec 08, 2012
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