The holidays are quickly approaching and now that we are allowed outside from the pandemic, many of us will spend time with extended family this season that we will have to mentally manage. Spending time with family can be great but some of us are dreading spending too much time with toxic family members or with people we might be contentious with.
There have been times in the past where I’ve gone to family get-togethers while holding a cup of ‘de-stress tea‘ under my nose, inhaling the calming aroma the entire time I was there. Mentally managing family get-togethers is more important when you add in the stress of parenting while attending or hosting a big family event.
How To Manage
As A Host
When you’re hosting, you just can’t walk out on your own event. But Dr. Marcuetta Sims suggests having a safe room. “Have a pre-identified place that you can step away, cool down, recalibrate, and then return,” said Dr. Sims.
You already know what family members are going to ask you, “When are you having kids?”, “Do you have a man/woman yet”, “How’s school going”, “When are you going to get a ‘real’ job?” Get your responses ready ahead of time. Dr. Sims suggests having a statement that clearly states your boundaries without rudely clapping-back. “I prefer not to talk about how I raise my children, right now,” or “I don’t feel comfortable discussing my weight with you. Did y’all see that football game, last week,” are the types of responses recommended. “They may not respect it, but you can keep repeating it until they leave you alone,” said Dr. Sims. If not, revert back to the Safe Room option above.
Everyone needs help. Dr. Sims suggests that you “delegate and ask for as much help as possible.” Don’t stress out. “If you’re trying to do all the things in preparation for the holidays, you are going to be more likely to build and hold resentment that will make you more susceptible to frustration with family members.
Spread Them Out
Craig Miller, the Co-Founder of Academia Labs, LLC., recommends preparing different sets of activities for each personality type so that family members don’t congregate in just one area of the house. “For instance, you can prepare a movie viewing area, a play area for the kids, a barbecue area for those who love cooking, and some arts and crafts tables too,” said Miller. He says that this will interest people to do the activities instead of flocking to one area and discussing sensitive topics that usually lead to heated arguments.
Miller also suggests arranging the table seating so that those who don’t get along well are not seated beside each other. “This will ensure a more stable and calmer environment during dinner,” said Miller.
Set Gift Giving Limits
Dr. Michael Newman made a great point to help minimize family tensions over the holidays. “When a family member’s gift spending is unequal or presents are unexpected, it may create uncomfortable and sad situations,” said Newman. At a family meeting ahead of the gift-giving date, he recommends setting the ground rules and agreeing on a set budget range.
How To Manage
As A Guest
Dr. Sims suggests planning an escape plan ahead of time. “Have a designated time that you are planning to leave the event and a pre-planned excuse for why you might even need to leave early,” said Dr. Sims. She also suggests that if you have a partner to make sure they are also on the same page with your plan. “Present a united front,” said Dr. Sims.
If there is a guest present that is toxic or a predator, protect you and your children and leave immediately. You don’t have to stay anywhere that is uncomfortable or puts you or your children at risk. Quietly text the host the reason why you could not stay and make it clear that if they are inviting the toxic person to future events, you and your family will not attend.
Dr. Sims also recommends getting plenty of rest prior to engaging with difficult family members. “When you’re tired, it makes it that much more difficult to navigate stressful situations,” said Dr. Sims.
“Mentally prepare yourself and understand that you are not required to be in any space that does not support your mental health,” Pametri Brown, The Empowerment Expert.