Tackle holiday stress with these relationship tips
Are you ready for the holidays? It’s the most wonderful time of the year — right? If the thought of holiday gatherings leaves you feeling less than joyful, you are not alone. In a 2015 study by Healthline, more than 60 percent of respondents reported feeling stress during the holidays. While there are many causes for holiday stress, family conflict can be among the most stressful.
We asked Dr. Trey Kuhne, clinical director of Pathways Pastoral Counseling in Spartanburg, for some help wading through tricky relationship issues that often rear their ugly heads during the holidays. While every family has its own dynamics, a very common reason for family conflict, says Kuhne, is a lack of boundaries among family members.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas exacerbate this, because you have traditions where families are supposed to come together,” Kuhne said. “This sometimes gives license to people who don't have boundaries in their relationships, and the whole thing just gets negative.”
According to Kuhne, a lack of boundaries in parent-adult child relationships is incredibly common. An example of this is when a parent doesn't really see their adult child as an adult.
“When the adult child brings over their spouse and kids, the parent reverts back into parent mode, rather than staying in grandparent mode,” he said. “One of the things about being a grandparent is that you are no longer the parent and you need to let go of that role. A parent may say something like, ‘I didn't raise you to act like that!’ Or, a parent may reminisce in a way that is embarrassing for the adult child.”
In this situation, Kuhne recommends taking control of the situation by telling positive stories that will put everyone at ease.
“If you are the storyteller, you can frame the story in the way that you want it presented.”
Another place where conflict can arise is in dealing with children. Kuhne recommends setting ground rules at the beginning of an event.
“It doesn't have to be very formal,” he said. “At the beginning of the gathering, or before the prayer if you have one, the host can say, ‘Here are some things to remember. No roughhousing with the children. No running in the house, etcetera.’”
Gift giving can also cause problems if expectations aren't addressed prior to the event.
“We live in a time where spending is frequent,” Kuhne said. “I recommend parents sit down with family members in advance, remind them how much they love and appreciate the family member, then give three options for gifts for each child and ask that family members choose one option.”
This method guarantees a grandparent doesn’t inadvertently out give Santa and reduces the possibility of competition between family members.
Adult children can also inadvertently cause tension with their parents around the holiday season. Kuhne says the expectation of childcare often plays a role. A person may expect their parents to drop everything in the interest of spending time with grandchildren. Holiday parties and events can bring this issue to the forefront.
“I suggest families sit down and set a schedule,” he said. “Perhaps offer to pay a parent, or set some sort of structure so that it isn't just you using them. Respect that they are giving up something in order to help you.”
There are times when no amount of preparation will change a situation or reduce conflict. In those situations, Kuhne reminds people that it is acceptable to say no to an event and create your own tradition with your nuclear family.
“When we say no, we see it as rejecting a person,” he said. “We have to learn to say no.”
At holidays, we may need to set limits on when we visit family, to keep from being pulled in too many directions. It may even mean refusing to attend a function on the holiday in favor of staying at home.