Wouldn’t it be nice if holidays with families were like TV commercials 📺 with everyone happy to just be together and getting along? There are so many ways we imagine our holiday celebrations, from romanticizing everything is just like a Christmas movie to dreading common family arguments.

Around this time of year therapeutic work in my office tends to shift to what it’s like being with family over the holidays. Anxiety about being with family or others they grew up with increases, and we talk about self-care when being around family. 

What’s it like when you go home again? Do you feel small or act younger than you are? If you do, you are normal. It is common for people to shift to a younger version of themselves when they are around their parents or if they go back to their childhood home. 

Here are some ways to prepare.

– Before you head to your holiday destination take a few minutes to contemplate what you are like when you are thriving in your adult life? Remember to be this person when you go home.

 – If you notice yourself behaving in a way you aren’t proud of, give yourself permission to take a break. Go for a walk, a drive, or out to see a friend. Also, if you hurt someone, apologize.

– Are you an introvert or extrovert? It matters. Extroverts get energized by being around people. Introverts get energized by being alone. Plan accordingly. When do you need a break? 

And remember, you aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness. So, be kind to others but also care for yourself. 

Here are some additional thoughts.

  1. Consider the length of the trip. Sometimes a shorter trip ends better than a longer one. 
  2. Plan a variety of things to do. Change can offer relief from tension. 
  3. Plan a variety of people to see. 
  4. Would it help to have access to transportation? Sometimes the knowledge that you can leave and do something different can make all the difference. 

What are your expectations when you go home? How are expectations communicated? Sometimes arguments and hurt feelings erupt out of unspoken expectations and made-up rules. Pay attention to what you are expecting. Are you placing imaginary rules on other people that they don’t even know about? Do people have expectations of you that they haven’t communicated?

Even Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had different expectations. In Luke 2:41-52, we see that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph went to Jerusalem for Passover like they did every year. When they were journeying home, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with them. It took them 3 days to find him in the temple. Mary asked him, “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus responded, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

Who is wrong in the story? No one. Mary and Joseph expected Jesus to be with the caravan of family and friends. Jesus expected them to know where he was. Sometimes we just have unspoken expectations. The more we can be aware of them and communicate them, the better things will go. 

Think back on other holiday visits. Are there times things haven’t gone well? Can you see where things went wrong? Is there something you need to ask for or say that will help visits go better? Some people can listen to your needs and some people aren’t able to, but you still get to care for you. 

Remember to be kind and stay out of judgment. You have been judged before, so don’t do it to others. Pay attention to your limits. You don’t have to apologize for being you.

~ Donna Durham, MMFT

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash