I originally wrote this article with the December/January holidays in mind, but since then have shared it with clients visiting home during other times of the year as well.
It’s supposed to by the most wonderful time of the year, right? But is it really? During this time of the year, most of my clients bring up the topic of coping with family during the holidays. While navigating interactions with family members during the holidays can be difficult even if you’re not living outside of your home country, it can be an especially challenging time of year for many people living abroad.
Even those people who have great relationship with their family may find that the prospect of suddenly being reunited with them after months apart can bring up a lot of stress and uncertainty. Living abroad brings with it a great deal of growth and personal development, which may also mean that going back home involves seeing familiar faces and places with different eyes. Other people living abroad may be preparing to host family or friends that are coming to visit them in their new country of residence, which can be challenging at any point of the year.
For those people living abroad who aren’t going home for the holidays, there are other challenges to deal with. Spending the holidays far away from family and friends may require coping with pangs of sadness or loneliness. And for many people, it means dealing with pressure from family members for being so far away.
Whatever your specific situation is, it´s important to have a plan of action for how to cope with any difficulties that arise. This article focuses specifically on ideas to help those of you who will be reunited with family during this time of year. I hope that some of these suggestions on coping with family during during the holidays will help you to navigate this time of year, wherever in the world you are.
Get your self-care toolbox ready
During this busy season filled with lots of intense emotions, it’s especially important to work on prioritizing self-care. Making sure you keep your batteries charged will help you to be better prepared to cope with the times that you may be triggered by family members. And although you may have a number of things on your to-do list that involve taking care of others, don’t forget that if you’re not taking good care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to be there for your loved ones.
When it comes to creating your self-care toolbox, start with the basics: get enough sleep, make sure you’re getting enough to eat in regular intervals, include some activity in your day. It’s also essential to know what specific things YOU need to recharge your batteries. For example, if you’re an introvert or someone who feels feelings deeply, it may be even more important for you to carve out some alone time to rest, listen to music, journal, meditate or read a book.
If you’re pressed for time, there are still some small things you can do to fit in self-care. For example, spend a couple of extra minutes in the bathroom to do some deep breathing or stay in your room a little longer in the morning to write down some things you’re grateful for before joining the rest of your family. If your family doesn’t understand your need your self-care, that’s ok. Creating boundaries and sticking to them is about you knowing and respecting your own limits.
It’s also a good idea to consider creating a self-care day or two to recharge after saying goodbye to visitors or returning home as these goodbyes can come with their own set of difficult feelings.
Accept that Some Things/People Are Outside of Your Circle of Control
¨Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.¨
Spending time with family is a perfect opportunity to remember the serenity prayer and the importance of acknowledging and accepting that which we cannot change. One way to think about it is this:
We have 3 circles of control in our lives:
1. An inner circle of things we can control (like creating boundaries and practicing self-care)
2. A middle circle of things we can only influence
3. An outer circle filled with the many things that are completely outside of our control and influence.
We tend to create a lot of stress for ourselves by trying to wrangle those things from the outer two circles into the innermost circle instead of accepting that there is very little, and often nothing, we can do about it.
When it comes to family, the fact that we may have to accept them as they are, is often a very hard truth to swallow. Sometimes it even requires a process of grieving the fact that certain members of our family aren’t the people we hoped they would be. This grieving process is one of the reasons that my clients work with me, to work on accepting their family for who they are, and learning skills to cope with this, instead of wasting their own energy trying to create an ideal version of their family.
Accepting that we don’t need to be responsible for changing our family members also allows us to see their words and actions in a different light. Although our buttons still may get pushed, especially when a family member’s words or actions trigger an old wound, we can keep in mind the fact that our family members have their own stuff that they’re working on (or not working on) that we don’t have to fix. I encourage my clients to keep the following mantra in mind when they notice their buttons are getting pushed:
“This is about them, this is not about me.”
Time outs are great as well (see above suggestion about escaping to the bathroom for a couple minutes of deep breathing).
Wherever in the world you’ll be celebrating this holiday season, I hope that these suggestions have helped you to start brainstorming your own plan for navigating time with your family.
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These are great suggestions. Also, this article reminds me of a Frasier’s quote (yes! the tv show): Why is it so easy to love our families yet so hard to like them?
Hi Carolina! I’m glad to hear you liked the article. I don’t remember that quote from Frasier, but I’m definitely a fan of the show since I’m from Seattle and it’s set there!
Spot on suggestions, thanks for such a thoughtful article Melissa! Prioritizing and scheduling self-care is a big one for me. I’ve also found that specifically when hosting family, planning activities in advance (and of course not over planning) allows for so much more clarity and ease with setting boundaries and knowing how and when to carve out alone time.