For most families the holiday period is an emotional time. Our young children make more demands upon us. Our adult children expect something of us. If our parents are alive, they may have expectations of us. Our friends may expect us to go shopping with them or go to parties.
However, the most heavy-duty of expectations are the ones we lay on ourselves. When we demand of ourselves that we meet everyone else’s expectations and at the same time be happy, we often end up pushing down our own emotions. And suppressing our own emotions is a recipe for emotional eruptions at the most inopportune times.
All of this is normal for the holiday season. However, the occurrence of any recent event out of the ordinary cranks up the emotional temperature even further, making everyone vulnerable.
It seems as if the Christmas holiday celebrations makes us acutely aware of deaths, job losses, children leaving home, health scares, and absences.
So how do you create a peaceful family time when the normal pressures of the season, coupled with the extraordinary events you may be dealing with, conspire to make the time anything but peaceful?
First and foremost, stay aware of your feelings and have frequent open discussions with your partner of what you are experiencing. If at times you are feeling overwhelmed or angry, say so. If your spouse speaks of feeling stressed or afraid, take time to listen. Touch, hug, and always acknowledge what the other is feeling.
Be particularly aware that the mere presence of certain relatives can bring out past, less desirable ways of coping with holiday stress.
For example, when you are with your partner, you both are generally supportive of each other. Yet when his mother is there, he criticizes; or when your father is there, you take his side against your partner in an argument. If anything like this has happened before with either of you, discuss it with your partner in advance and stay alert to the risk.
Guiding principle: You and your partner are the primary family unit, followed by the two of you with your children. Your primary family unit is your highest priority. That’s where your loyalty belongs.
Finally, keep in mind that part of the stress you may be feeling is from old tapes from your childhoods, as you helplessly stood by and watched your parents cope poorly with family holiday stress. If you do a better job of creating a peaceful holiday than you experienced as a child, your children will benefit.
Have yourselves a peaceful, loving holiday.
Dr. Neill is a Central-Island Registered Psychologist.
You can reach him by calling 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact.