Taking Back the Holidays One Toxic Family Encounter at a Time

taking back the holidays jkmcguire

You are dreading it. Anticipating this holiday season is already beginning to drain your spirit and you haven’t even made it to the dinner table yet. You are not sure if you can handle one more passive-aggressive comment, one more manipulatively worded request, one more parental whining moment, or another one of your family’s heated political/religious discussions. The whole experience makes you cringe and break out in hives.

Is there a way to do a healthy holiday while maintaining your integrity? Can you redeem the chaos without losing your mind?

Taking Back the Holidays

Last year I met a mom the weekend after Thanksgiving who shared how good her holiday had been. Her sons had come together for the first time in five years under the same roof to share a meal. They couldn’t even remember why they had been angry with each other.

She was relieved. Her spirit was visibly joyful.

The truth is that no matter how hard we try…holidays, weddings, and funerals bring out the cray cray in families.

wedding holidays and funerals crazy families

We can try to prepare with deep breaths and quiet moments. We can make a list of rules for ourselves – those internal guidelines that we hope will help shape the holiday gathering better than the last time. We proclaim to those we love the things we won’t bring up in conversation – no religion, no politics, no messy reminders from our family’s history, and no discussing Aunt Josephine’s divorce.

We can bargain with ourselves that the people who hurt us the most will not be allowed to do that again this year. We will stick up for ourselves and finally confront the family bully.

We refuse to walk away feeling beaten up, battered, bruised, and not even a member of our own families.

But then the reality of bringing all those messy people together around a holiday table sets in: how we rub each other raw, the manner in which unkind things are said, and the ways that we pick at each other all before you can, “Please pass the turkey.”

Uncle Hank can’t keep his language clean. Grandma is nagging mom again. Grandpa has had one too many beers. Aunt Kathy is upset over something Aunt Bea posted on Facebook last week. The baby starts crying. Your husband is hiding in front of the TV in the den. You are eating, eating, eating again. You find yourself cringing and balling up inside. And then your father in law starts berating someone about the attention he is not getting or some information someone didn’t tell him. Someone brings the latest family gossip to the table – information that is not helpful or kind. Someone is voting or worshiping or supporting or marrying into something different than the rest of the family. And everyone wants to know why you aren’t coming home for Christmas this year or why you refuse to go on vacation with the whole damn family…. “we just thought you would want to spend time with us.”

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Stop the insanity.

Four Tips for Taking Back the Holidays

a handy guide to surviving the holidays

  1. Curb Your Expectations – Anne Lamott says that “expectations are resentments under construction.” The holidays never seem to measure up to how we envision them in our minds. If we go into the day expecting and hoping for X, but then A, B, C is actually what happens it can leave us feeling hung out to dry. Expect nothing. Mind your own bowl. Hope others will be on the best them, but let if go if they can’t manage to leave their yuck at home. If your daughter or son or mother or father doesn’t show up the way that you had hoped – let it go. Find a way to enjoy just one thing about your time together.
  2. There is a time to speak up and a time to be silent – consider the timing. The holiday table is rarely the best opportunity or environment for bringing up charged, hurtful memories or conversations. Politics, religion, and family gossip is best served away from a holiday meal or gathering. If you want to discuss the election year, your faith journey or your sister’s addiction – consider scheduling a time in the future over a cup of coffee. There is a time and place for everything over the family table probably is NOT it.
  3. Leave them better than you found them – some people simply can not do family get togethers without saying something hurtful or unkind or passive-aggressive. It is almost as if they need to lash out irrationally and cause harm before someone in the group hurts them first. They need to be the center of attention or the center of information. At the end of the day the only behavior you are responsible for is your own. Make it your goal to leave your family feeling joy and loved by you. That’s all you can do. Be you.
  4. Be FOR each other – what a blessing family time could be if we could learn to be FOR each other. I know families where every young person and budding relationship is nitpicked and splayed open before the whole group to mock, consider, gossip, and judge. This is not OK. If we spent more time together simply enjoying one another – what a blessing that holiday would truly be.

One bad moment – one nasty comment – one person’s toxicity – one negative opinion DOES NOT MEAN that the whole holiday has to be ruined.

You make a choice – to allow the lifesuckers and the lifesucking moments to define the day or to redeem the day on your terms. We can walk out the door feeling used, discarded, abused, and neglected OR we can pray blessings and goodness and hope over those who are not going to grow up and be any different towards us.

OR you can stay home – staying home is also an option.

The holiday can only be defined by the toxicity if you continue to allow it. You CAN choose differently.

Consider this from the web:

Henry Cloud of “Boundaries” had this advice for navigating the holidays on his Facebook page:

Hey Guys-Thanksgiving is the unofficial start of the holiday season. It’s a time of year that always seems so…

Posted by Henry Cloud on Monday, November 23, 2015

SNL brought out the funny:

Hopefully no matter where you are this holiday season you find a way to redeem it with laughter, good food & drink, and all the people you love anyways.

Happy Holidays.

Want to Celebrate?
Join Me ON the Front Porch

Never miss an update! Sign up for a biweekly newsletter of exclusive content and weekly blog updates sent directly to your inbox.
Join me?