How to cope with family at Christmas

How to cope with family at Christmas


As if the pressures of Christmas shopping, keeping gifts within your budget, battling crowds and avoiding impulse purchases aren't enough to contend with, once the pre-Christmas craziness is over, tradition requires that we spend time with our families.

This is great if you have healthy, balanced and positive family relationships. But what if you don't?

Even if you can get on with each other for the rest of the year (or you avoid certain relatives), bringing everyone together at Christmas, then adding alcohol, can bring up old resentments, arguments and conversations that you had hoped were over and done with a long time ago. You can be a 40-year-old adult with a job and family of your own, but still turn into the sulky five-year-old daughter, or the argumentative little brother as soon as you get with your relatives.

So if you can't choose your family, and you can't change them either, what can you do to help you cope with family at Christmas?

  1. Reduce the pressure pre-Christmas.  If you're already stressed out just with the shopping, wrapping, planning and everything else in the run-up to Christmas, you aren't going to be in the best place to be able to handle anything that comes up over Christmas. If you burn yourself out trying to get everything done, everything else is going to feel so much harder, you'll feel criticism more strongly, and be less able to get your point across. So step off the gas a little before Christmas. Remember, you're supposed to enjoy it.
  2. Practise self-awareness. I cover this more in the workshop, but just by being aware of your own thoughts and feelings in family situations can help you to manage your own state, even if you can't do anything about other people's behaviour. You probably know your trigger points with your family, so stop, acknowledge what you're thinking or feeling, and don't rush to react in a way that could cause something to escalate or bring up old arguments. You do have a choice about how you respond to people 'pushing your buttons'.
  3. Take a step back. If there are old resentments that were never settled, or you notice yourself and your family slipping into old roles and family dynamics, then be aware of it and take a step back.  Become an observer, see what's going on and don't get drawn in. The chances are that you won't be able to change people's beliefs or opinions, you can't manage other people's expectations either, so don't try.  It may not be easy to let it go, but if you can't change something, don't cause yourself more stress or drain your energy trying.

If all else fails remove yourself for a while, without drama, and give yourself a break.

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Ruth Randall is a Life and Leadership Coach, and Team Development Specialist. Ruth works with teams to help them to build trust, develop strong working relationships, manage stress, and increase productivity and job satisfaction. She also coaches individual clients who want to make changes in their lives, careers and relationships.

One Comment

  1. Great article with excellent advice Ruth. I can turn the clock back and recognise so much of this. Now we’re in the ‘enviable’ position of not having any family commitments. But at times it feels as though we’re really missing out… There are no easy answers at such an emotionally charged time of year x