As someone who comes from a, let's just say psychologically dynamic, family I've looked askance at holidays with relatives. From early in college 3000 miles away from my close family I would search for ways to not make it back during holiday season. It wasn't that I didn't love them, which I did, but rather that I simply didn't want to be a part of the psychological dynamism that was ubiquitous. From early childhood through until I graduated from high school, family holidays were not enjoyable. They were filled with guilt trips, unpleasant rehashings of old difficulties, constant insinuations or outright declarations of incorrect choices I was making, or some other less than pleasant form of passing time. Finally, when I could choose to not take a flight across the country, I was able to determine what made the most sense for me. On occasion I would be guilted back to the family table for some event, but often grudgingly.
Why do we put up with this? We don't have to. If we have family with whom we do not want to spend time during the holidays we should feel free to express that, to act upon it, and to do what we'd like to do with our time instead. I would often find groups of friends with which to spend a holiday, another friend's family who was less psychologically dynamic, or simply have some quiet time alone to enjoy the depopulated city in which I lived.
We have a few choices with family holidays:
Go and make the best of it
Do something else
Do nothing at all
Go And Make The Best Of It
Occasionally, as I said, I was guilted to be at the table. Families have amazing ways of making us feel like we have to do stuff, even if it's not in our own interest. This sense of guilt only lasted a short time, though, because I realized, I didn't own the guilt. Therefore, once I realized that I was doing something nice for my mom, even if it was going to be less than ideal for me, I decided to own the experience. Instead of feeling guilty, I chose to look forward to the holidays. I always enjoyed flying across the country, looking out of the window of the airplane as it traversed our great, and awe inspiring from 30,000 feet, land. I got to own that ride. Then, when I showed up to where my mom lived, I would own that experience as well. I could choose what conversations to engage in. I could choose when to stay in the house, and more importantly, when to leave. I owned that time, allowing me to choose my level of comfort, rather than have discomfort thrust upon me.
When you know you'll be going to holiday events where you have a history of being uncomfortable, you can choose to own that event for yourself. You can choose how you'll engage your family. What topics you will, and will not discuss, and when it's time for you to leave. Owning these choices allows you to stay in your comfortable environment because you carry that environment with you.
It's not always easy to steer the conversation away from uncomfortable topics, so maybe you start off by steering the conversation directly at them. Own the topics, own the discussion, take a leadership role in how the event unfolds. By offering the direction you make it easier for others to not have to come up with it. By leading the dynamic, you help determine the dynamic. This may not always work, but I've found it a great way to be in a place that used to be uncomfortable, but no longer has to be.
Do Something Else
One great thing about being an adult is that you can make choices about your actions. You can plan your own life, set up your own routines, and determine how your day will be spent, most of the time. The same goes for the holiday season. If there is a history of uncomfortable holidays in your past, why continue to participate? This year set up a party with friends with whom you enjoy spending time. Or, plan a trip to a place you know will be open, yet either unaffected by the holiday (international), or underpopulated because of it (domestic). You own this time. Choose how you wish to spend it. Choose what makes the most sense for you. One year, I even chose to do a huge list of house chores, repairs, and construction that needed to be done. It was fantastic to have a week to dedicate exclusively toward making my home a more comfortable place to be. I was able to get a lot of great work done before I came down with the flu. Don't let the illness dissuade you, it was one of the best holiday week's of my life because I was fully engaged and active each and every day doing something I loved!
Do Nothing At All
I've often found that I'm most comfortable sitting when everyone else is running around in bedlam. This is most true in the holiday season. Everyone makes their own choices of how they spend this time of year. My choice is LOW KEY! I avoid malls (actually I tend to avoid them year round if I can!), holiday parties, and long road or air journeys at this time of year. To me they are just not worth the energy expenditure. My preference is to build a fire, read a book, drink tea or hot chocolate, and let the season simply pass while I stay comfy. As with all things, the season does pass. In the meantime, I didn't get psychologically dynamic, at least not from my perspective.
Oh, and there's one more, that's the most important!!!
There's one final option for those seeking choices during the holiday season. I didn't put it on the list above because it's not an easy thing to do, but it's a choice we can make. Early in dating Jan she invited me to a Easter dinner with her family. This was very early, like 2 months in. At the dinner I was very warmly welcomed by the whole family. There was tons of laughing, fun had by all, and great food! I was shocked!!! I'd never seen such a family affair in my life. One of the things that won my heart that day was Jan's 7 year old cousin who took my hand to show me where the cookie and candy trays were. He didn't know me, but he wanted to share with me the most meaningful part of the event to him. I loved it. I loved him. I loved Jan for sharing this with me.
The reason I say that this is not an easy thing to do is because we don't always control what family we marry into. In this particular case, I did. If you're dating someone and find that their family is welcoming, fun to be with at a holiday, and treats you with respect and love, even when they just met you, you've got something very special. One of the reasons I love Jan is because she showed me that family is awesome! It wasn't family itself that was my problem. It was MY family! When I saw that hers was fun to be with I realized I could be with them often.
Since meeting Jan's family I seek out opportunities to be with them. We do most holidays together, laugh at all of them, and always have a great time with great food. Therefore, the best advice we can offer for the holidays is this:
Find the people with whom you want to spend this time, and have fun with them. Being thankful for having such people around is what holidays are all about. Be thankful for these folks, express that thanks, and enjoy the food.
Best wishes for your holidays!
Jan, Joshua, and Jeremy