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Tips: Being With Family at the Holidays
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2011

It is that time of year again, and whether your image is "home for the holidays," or a sweet Hallmark card, the question remains "how will the holidays go?"

You can resolve to making this holiday better than previous ones. How? By committing yourself to being an adult no matter what anyone says or does. Whether someone says something offensive or insists on telling an embarrassing story about you, how you handle it gives you an opportunity to change your part in the family communication pattern. You can imagine yourself feeling, thinking, and responding differently when, for example, you are asked, "when will you find the right partner already?" " Why do you insist on eating such strange food?" "How can you consider voting for 'HIM?'" Remember your response to how family events unfold is directly connected to your perception and attitude. Do you expect your mom who has no boundaries to suddenly respect yours? Is it reasonable to believe your racist uncle is going to refrain from telling an offensive joke? What are you willing and able to tolerate and how can you distract, guide, dodge, and, yes, enjoy time with your clan?

Choose your "engagements" wisely. Here are some tips to consider:

Be Yourself, Be True to Yourself, and Take Care of Yourself. - Take time to exercise, stretch, write, listen to music, enjoy some alone time, and by all means, seek out the people you enjoy and maximize your time with them.

Avoid Trouble Spots. - Steer clear of topics which historically have not gone well. If you want to plumb the depths of difficult or challenging subjects, let the person know you are available to explore this with them at a more appropriate time and place. Consider the consequences of choosing this time to stir up old fires and even old scores.

Be Mindful. - Be mindful of your goal and purpose for the holiday. Perhaps it is to enjoy family and friends, or maybe to bring a sense of calm and peace to your family. Is it to learn more about each other? Will you attempt to see your family from a different point of view?

Getting to Know You. - Inquire about family members whose lives have not been readily open to you and be interested in getting to know their histories. Ask key family members to recall times in their lives when they were the most content or the most interested or the most happy. Tell them you really want to know them in ways you have never had a chance to before. See if you can discover facets of these people that you never knew.

Notice Connections. - Find the ways you are like some of your family members and focus on characteristics you "inherited" that you admire and want to continue to emulate. Also, see how you have changed certain patterns that you don't like. As easy as it is to be critical and judgmental, try to understand how unhealthy it is for you.

Be realistic yet appreciate what you can do to enhance your chances of having a "successful" and "warm" holiday. Someone recently sent me an e-mail reply to my query, "How was your family Thanksgiving?" "We all survived without any major incident which I have come to realize after so many years with my family, is synonymous for 'it was good.'"

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