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By Adam Maurer, MA, LMFT-A
It’s that magical time of year again when the air gets crisp with familial obligations to return home. For some people, this is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Traffic on I-35 will be the worst part of visiting home for the holidays. And then there are the rest of us. If your family or in-law’s is the twisted child of a Norman Rockwell painting and a Wes Craven film, then these tips are for you.
Tip #1 Do YOU Have To Be There?
People may have expectations for you to be home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but in reality you are an adult and can decide for yourself where you would like to be for your holidays. You can create your own traditions with your own friends and family, and avoid all the headaches of a holiday in Hell. People might be upset that you are not there, but that is for them to manage. You are not responsible for other people’s’ feelings. If you are partnered and you find your in-law’s place to be a hostile environment, then who says you MUST go with your partner. You could stay home with the kids, or dog, or friends or alone. A holiday apart might be worth the price of not being subjected to a Thanksgiving with the Manson’s. This option may not work for everyone; maybe you have financial attachments to your family or perhaps you have loved ones who are not guaranteed another holiday so you feel more compelled to visit home. If you feel that you must go home, here are some more tips for being in the belly of the beast.
Tip #2 The Bathroom Is Your Sanctuary
If you find yourself in a stressful situation while visiting home for the holidays you can always escape to the bathroom. It is typically a safe place to collect yourself. While in the bathroom you can splash some cold water on your face and take some deep breaths to clear your mind of negativity and ground yourself. Hell, there is probably even a candle in there if you need to meditate some. Use the bathroom as your own personal safe haven.
Tip #3 Your Phone Is Your Lifeline
Make sure your phone is charged and keep it on you at all times. You can text a designated support during challenging times at home, or even your partner who might be sharing in your misery across the room. If conversations are centering on uncomfortable topics such as religion or politics, you can quickly scan the news for a subject change.
Tip #4 Plan Your Visit
If you know that the people you struggle with the most are visiting at a certain time, have a planned event to excuse yourself. A quick hello-goodbye rather than hours of agony. You might have to go shopping on Black Friday but it’s better than three hours of being tormented by your relative’s less desirable rants. If you are staying with the person you wish to avoid then having a task in the home can be helpful to get breaks. As the designated dog walker you can get some distance between yourself and whatever frustrations arise while visiting over the holidays. Perhaps you offer to be on garbage duty. Do those leaves need raking? Maybe there are some museums to see or fun things in the area to check out. Whatever you can do to help ease the tension you feel.
Tip #5 Focus On The Folks You Like
You might not be alone in your holiday war zone, so connect with your allies. Hangout with your cousin who is also uncomfortable; enjoy some time playing with your nieces and nephews. Ask your grandmother questions about her life. Focus on connecting with people who are easier for you to love. Building those relationships will make the other challenges seem less overwhelming.
I hope those tips help you manage difficult homecomings. The holidays can stir up a number of difficult emotions for people, especially with it seems like the world is having some Martha Stewart realness. Talking with a therapist can help sort through the sticky situations you might encounter, or offer support during a challenging time of the year. If you need some extra help, reach out to a professional who can help you tap into your own strengths and provide you with some resources to have a happy holiday.
If you need help walking through steps like this or even more complex situations involving sexuality, grief and loss, or general individual counseling or relationship counseling related issues, let us know and we will be glad to help!