Being Together for the Holidays Is Over-Rated
Togetherness is a good thing unless you’ve had so much togetherness that you want some distance. Social worker Donna Fisher says you may have a love-hate relationship with being together and assures you that this is normal. We live in a time of intense feelings. As much as you want to be together, you may also have a desire to be distant. When forced together or forced to remain apart, you’re bound to have feelings that run hot and cold.
If you’re considering being together for the holidays because that’s what you’ve always done, you may feel conflicted this year. Being together during the holidays may have you questioning what’s the right action to take.
Find the Right Frame of Mind
No one can tell you what’s right for you although plenty of people are usually glad to offer their advice on what you ought to do.
If you’ve always loaded the kids up in the car and taken a trip across the country to visit mom and dad but don’t feel right about traveling this year, you may be feeling extra pressure. You don’t want to let mom and dad or other family members down. Perhaps you only see each other once a year. You also don’t want to let the kids down because they don’t get to see aging grandparents often, and this may be their last holiday to see and hug little Susie or little Johnny.
You may also have to mitigate other factors like health and safety. What’s in the best interest of the health and safety for those involved? Maybe you don’t want to get the grandparents sick. Possibly the grandparents have said something like, “I’m willing to risk my health for the chance to put my arms around my family.”
There’s also the health of you and your partner or spouse and the health of the kids to consider. Your comfort level in this scenario may vary based on determining factors like whether or not you’ve already been sick, and your potential to get sick or make someone else ill.
You’re likely processing all of these thoughts as you decide whether to be together for the holidays. If you’ve determined that you want to do something different this year, you may be dealing with feelings of guilt.
Address Emotions with Care
Guilt is like an emotion that makes it difficult to think straight. There are four basic scenarios of how guilt plays out:
- Something you did
- Something you didn’t do, but want to do
- Something you think you did
- That you didn’t do enough
If you did something you know is wrong, especially by your own standards, or by someone else’s standards, you might have feelings of regret. Perhaps there’s something you wanted to do, but forgot or ran out of time to complete. You could feel bad about yourself. Maybe mom and dad want you to be together for the holidays, and you think you’ll hurt their feelings if you register with regret. Or you feel bad that you didn’t do more to help someone in need. Whatever you’re feeling is relevant, and feelings affect us, even if they are misguided. Emotions and feelings often lie to us. Every parent knows this.
Bring Back Communication Basics
It’s an excellent time to revisit the skills you may have forgotten. Model open relationships by having a conversation where everyone feels they are heard. You can have a talking ritual, where you’re neither friend nor a therapist, but take time to discuss the holidays. Feelings can run high, and someone might yell, but this happens, especially with kids and teens when they don’t know how to process emotions. If we’re being honest, sometimes adults lose their composure too. Kids may shout the dreaded, “I hate you.” This is an emotional response and not usually a personal attack.
You’ve probably heard the old adage: ‘The devil is in the details.’ Make sure to share the details with kids about why you participate in certain events and not others. Whether they agree with you or not, you’re the parent and need to make the best decision for your family. It may be a good idea to substitute something special in place of events you’re choosing to give up.
Resolve Your Feelings
Guilt, especially around the holidays, may have you feeling more solemn than usual. Practice your love language and lean into the ways others feel loved. You can eliminate negative emotions by focusing on happier times, both those you’ve had in the past, and those you look forward to in the future. If feelings and tempers flare about the decisions you’ve made, you’ll have an opportunity to practice forgiveness too. The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, but don’t let not being together — if that’s your choice — drive you farther apart. Reach out to maintain relationships in the best way you can.