When everyone packs into Grandma’s house for the holidays, no matter their age, family members often fall (or get dragged) into their old childhood roles. Even adults who now have kids of their own and successful careers can be made to feel like children again. And that can create ... conflict. Here’s how to survive your holiday get-together, according to family therapists.
Tips for adult children
Set boundaries. Ahead of the gathering, tell parents, siblings or other attendees about any topics you’re not willing to discuss. For instance, it’s perfectly appropriate to let people know you will not get involved in political conversations at the dinner table or you don’t want to rehash your childhood victories or embarrassments.
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Prepare for the weird. Visualize in advance how you wish to react if someone treats you inappropriately or ignores your requests per the tip above. Is it best to respond with humor and sternness, or by walking away or simply doing a breathing exercise and letting the moment pass? The more you can anticipate what’s coming and plan a positive response, the better you’ll be able to deal with the moment and keep enjoying the bigger picture.
Ask the right way. Want your parents to act differently toward you? How you request that makes a world of difference. “Enlisting them in the change, explaining you know they’re coming from a good place, gives people the benefit of the doubt,” says Erin Cassidy-Eagle, a clinical professor specializing in geriatric psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine. For example, they may respond to your lack of interest in a dish they tell you they’re preparing with, “What do you mean, you don’t eat that? You love it!” In that situation, say, “I often feel like I hurt your feelings if I don’t eat a special dish you’ve made that I know is coming from a place of love. But I’m trying to eat differently now. Could I get your help to create a little more balance on the table?”
Designate a support person. Prearrange to have someone to communicate with — either in person or electronically — when you need a break from your family, says Mudita Rastogi, a clinical professor and licensed marriage and family therapist with the Family Institute at Northwestern University. Tell that person in advance that when you reach out, you want to be “talked down.” You’re looking to be reminded that you’re supposed to be enjoying your time with family rather than feeling exasperated.