How to Deal with Family Stress and Enjoy Christmas

Over the last few years, it’s been very hard for me to adjust to the “state of my family” during the holidays.  It’s been years since my grandmother passed, and with her passing, my relationships within my family have changed tremendously.  I don’t go to visit much at all, even during the holidays.  Partly because I now have a family of my own, so we divide our holiday time between my family and my husband’s family in Arkansas.  Even when I go to visit my extended family, we are hardly ever in one location for the holidays like before.  Everyone has an agenda with their immediate family.  That’s cool, but it feels so far from the family that I once knew.  And with my dad’s side of the family, things were a little tense for the past few years.  We were all once very close – my dad, stepmom, and sisters – but so much happened within a few short years that changed everything, and I have found myself learning how to deal with family stress more and more.

Because of the harsh realities of my dysfunctional upbringing and hurtful and emotional experiences with family, I developed a hard shell around my heart concerning family matters over the past few years.  If it wasn’t MY immediate family, I wasn’t as concerned or engaged.  I think it was the most disingenuous and unauthentic feeling I’ve ever felt.  I am naturally a very caring, giving, and concerned person.  I don’t hold grudges, I forgive and apologize first … even if I’m not wrong.  So, my behavior has been a form of torture for me. 

Moving From Coping with Family Stress into Harmony and Love

About a month ago, we were preparing to go visit my dad for Thanksgiving.  I knew that we had not spent Thanksgiving at his house, all of us together, in a long while and there were so many things that we never discussed as a family to bring about a resolution.  Nonetheless, we were going and I had to prepare myself for the visit.  I knew that during the visit, I would also see my mom’s side of the family.  So, I began to pray that God would change me so that I could be true to my authentic self, and something happened.  I began to change my expectations of my family, and like magic I felt differently about family matters, and the question of how to deal with family stress started to fade into the background.

The trip was wonderful (except me getting sick).  I was able to spend time with both sides of my family in harmony with love.  No, I didn’t see everybody, because again they were all at separate houses, but I did what I could.  Thanksgiving at my dad’s was like old times. Jo, my stepmom, put her foot in those collard greens, and all the food was “yummy in the tummy,” as my son Chance would say.  My sisters were there, we laughed, cracked short jokes on my height-challenged dad and sister, Shamekia.  It was delightful, and as for me … I was being myself.  I enjoyed sharing the love, hope, and enthusiasm about life, love and my future interaction with my family. 

How to Deal With Family Stress and Enjoy Christmas - It always seems impossible until it's done. - Nelson Mandela

You see, despite past experiences (and trust me, there’s a lot that happened that I am not sharing here), there are ways that you can enjoy spending time with family and stay true to yourself.  Here are a few suggestions to help you not only survive, but delight in the family time you’ve always dreaded during the holidays:

Tips on How to Deal with Family Stress

Lead by Example – Just because your family does not respect or acknowledge the person you’ve become doesn’t mean that you are not that person.  See them for who they are, and not for what they’ve done to you.

KNOW That It’s Not About You – Taking things personally will lead you to the fast track of frustration.  If your cousin calls you a “conceited, pretentious so-and-so,” know that their perception and (sometimes) their mental state has nothing to do with you.

Remain Grateful – Your family dynamic may not be ideal, but at least you have family.  Don’t get caught up in the quarrels or side-eye glances, and remember what really matters and why times like these are so meaningful … because they don’t last forever.

Changing your focus to one of gratitude and appreciation will change your experience. By no means will it be easy, but it will be worth it.  In addition to leading by example, knowing that it was not about me, and remaining grateful, I had this quote in my head by George Burns: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family … in another city.”

My final tip on how to deal with family stress during the holidays (and beyond) is to find humor in the situation and don’t take things so seriously. You are the only person who needs to change for you to enjoy and celebrate the holidays with family. 

How have you dealt with troubling family matters during the holidays?  Please comment and share this with those you may know who are dreading Christmas with family.


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    1. Thank you so much Apryl! Life is comprised of a series of lessons. It took me a while to learn that I could not protect my heart by acting like I didn’t have one. Love is way easier.

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