HOW HEALTHY FAMILIES HANDLE HOLIDAYS
By Kevin Thompson
It’s “the most wonderful time of the year” when many people dread spending time with their families.
Few things reveal the true health of a family like the holidays. Expectations are high. Time is often spent in close proximity with one another. If anything goes wrong, feelings are deeply hurt.
Most of the year it is easy for a family to ignore problems, but during the holiday season those hidden divisions are brought to the surface. (See: I Know Who Is In Charge Of Your Family)
But the holidays can be a fun, relaxing season which draws families together. While they can never mimic the perfection often illustrated in movies and expected by grandmothers, they can be a meaningful time that strengthens bonds and creates memories.
For the holidays to have this impact, each family must develop three characteristics.
Three Characteristics of Healthy Families
1. Healthy families have healthy expectations. It’s acceptable to desire your whole family to be together for the holidays. It’s not acceptable to guilt, manipulate, or demand that it happen. Before marriage, it’s fair to assume your children will be home for major family events, but when they get married their allegiance must change. Mom and grandma remain important, but wife or husband become more important. (See: Healthy Families Can Talk About Everything)
Healthy families understand that a person can only be one place at a time and it is selfish to assume our children or grandchildren will always be at our house during the prime-time of a holiday. When they have families of their own, we have to share.
Unhealthy families do not realize this.
They guilt (“It’s going to kill grandma if you aren’t there.”)
They manipulate (“Well, if you aren’t coming we just won’t have Christmas.”)
They blame (“Ever since he got married, his wife won’t let him spend the holidays at our house.”)
This behavior is destructive. It’s unfair, childish, and unrealistic.
Do you want to love your family well? Have healthy expectations toward them.
2. Healthy families have healthy boundaries. They care deeply for one another, but they are able to distinguish their individual selves and families from the whole. They respect one another, honor each other’s space, and value the decisions of others.
Unhealthy families do not have strong boundaries. (See: A Checklist to Gauge Your Emotional Health)
They ask inappropriate questions (“When are you going to have children?”).
They give unrequested advice (“You need to discipline that child.”)
They ignore decisions (“I know your mom said you can’t have that, but I’ll let you.”)
Boundaries are not something we naturally possess. Each of us either take on the responsibilities of others or deny responsibility over our own lives. We have to learn what healthy boundaries look like. Each individual has a right to define what they will and will not do. Without apology we can define our own lives. We have little obligation to explain our decisions to others, even family.
Do you want to love your family well? Determine what is fully your responsibility and be responsible for those things while refusing to take on the responsibilities that belong to others.
3. Healthy families have healthy conflict. It’s normal to experience aspects of conflict around the holidays. Everyone has a set of expectations and no one will fully get what they want. Working through the planning process can create tension. The difference between healthy and unhealthy is not the absence or presence of conflict. It is how the conflict is handled.
Healthy families can handle it in a productive way. They expect it, aren’t afraid of it, and confront it. They may not like it, but they deal with it in a meaningful way. Without getting angry or overwhelmed, they share their viewpoint, listen to others, and find a fair compromise. Because it is dealt with, it is over after one conversation and does not have a negative influence in the years to come. (See: It’s Not My Job to Read Your Mind)
Unhealthy families are terrified by conflict. They deny it, ignore it, or handle it in passive aggressive ways. Because it isn’t properly handled, it has a lasting impact. A past conflict can influence every holiday for decades.
Do you want to love your family well? Accept the presence of conflict and handle it in a fair manner.
Unfortunately, disappointment is a common description I hear from others about the holidays. They desire a meaningful time together with their families, but they end up hurt, frustrated, or thinking something is wrong with them. These feelings are often a result of unhealthy expectations, boundaries, and the poor handling of conflict.
When we learn to handle these three aspects in a healthy manner, it transforms our families and frees us to enjoy the holidays.