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Handling Holiday Stress

You’ve made a list and checked it twice (make that three times) and still your holiday to-do’s are growing. From family gatherings to cookie exchanges and all the wrapping in between, the stress of preparing for the holidays can sometimes take the reason right out of the season. The most difficult part often comes from the interactions we have with the people we love most. Read on for tips on handling a few challenging holiday scenarios from local experts well-versed in managing tricky family dynamics.

SCENARIO #1

Your 8-year-old daughter has really been looking forward to seeing her long distance cousins at your family’s holiday get-together. It doesn’t take long, however, for you to notice that your brother’s children are not being very nice to her. Their teasing and name-calling are upsetting your daughter – and upsetting you too. These behaviors are happening in front of your brother, but he is not addressing it. Should you?

This is a very difficult situation, since you cannot predict how others will react.  Redirecting the kids would be a good way to refocus their thoughts in a more positive direction. Maybe suggest a game or other activity that will help your nephew transition out of the negative behavior he was demonstrating. Prior to the next family gathering, it might be a good idea to work to empower your daughter to deal with teasing, should it happen again. Work to validate her feelings about how she feels when her cousin is teasing her. It can be helpful to let your daughter brainstorm ways to potentially handle the situation if it occurs again. Additionally, mentioning this situation to your brother is not a bad idea if you think he will respond appropriately. Keep it simple, while reducing comments that could be perceived as blame towards him. Create a plan that you could both follow if either of you notice the teasing is continuing in the future. Parenting other people’s children is not always the best option, due to the wide spectrum of parenting styles that exists.

Colleenia Korapatti, MA, LMHC
Private Practice, Groff And Associates 

SCENARIO #2

This year you are hosting all the festivities around Christmas for your extended family. You’re happy to do this, until your in-laws announce that they are planning to stay with you for a full week. You consider three to four days to be your maximum in terms of being a gracious host. How do you broach this subject with them?

The Christmas holiday is a magical, fun time of year filled with family, fun and togetherness. It can also be riddled with stress, anxiety and the pressure to make things perfect – especially when you are the host. Staying focused on your own personal values for the holiday can help you avoid holiday stress pitfalls and maintain your Christmas cheer composure. 

We all strive to be gracious and courteous hosts, particularly with our in-laws. However, being a gracious host should absolutely come with identifying your own personal boundaries and limits. If you know that a three to four day stay is your maximum level of comfort in hosting, then communicate that to your in-laws directly. Or better yet, have your spouse/partner communicate that directly to their parents. 

There are ways to communicate your boundaries directly while also being mindful of your in-laws’ feelings. It’s important to acknowledge the positives within your in-laws’ desire to stay with you (they enjoy your company, love your children, appreciate your cooking, want to support you, etc.). There are certainly good intentions and your in-laws may appreciate your acknowledgement of those intentions. In addition, it is equally important to be direct about your boundaries and communicate them clearly. Having personal boundaries is a sign of good self-esteem and maintaining them will ensure that the relationships in your life are mutually respectful and caring. 

Kristen Pastrick, LCSW, LCAC                                                                                 Psychotherapist and Owner of KAP Counseling, LLC in Broad Ripple

SCENARIO #3

This holiday is the first one you are spending as a blended family. Your stepdaughter has been obvious in her desire to spend as much time as possible with her mother – and not you. This is upsetting your husband, who had high hopes for your family’s first holiday together to be more festive. What’s the best way for you to handle the situation?

It’s the holidays again – only this is one very special. More than anything else you want everyone together and happy. Holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but the blended family takes on even more challenges. 

The best thing to do as a stepparent is to plan, plan and plan. Begin your planning long before the holiday season. Make plans with the other parent so your daughter knows she will be spending time with each parent. Other suggestions include:

  1. Plan special one on one time with your stepdaughter and her dad. Perhaps a special game or activity that she has always enjoyed.
  2. Give permission to your stepdaughter to visit with her mother. Let her know that you really do care about her feelings. 
  3. Create a new tradition with your stepdaughter’s likes in mind and get her advice on the planning aspect.

 Be sure to take time to distress yourself. Go for a walk, get a massage or talk to a friend. If you need extra support, consider counseling.  

Dr. Marcia Compton, D.Min, LMHC, LAC
AAA Hope Counseling 

Although spending time with family can be a highlight of the holiday, it can also have its share of uncomfortable situations. Try to stay focused on the positive moments of the season that make it special for your family and do your best to keep the unpleasant ones from turning you into a Grinch. New Year’s is just around the corner, which might be the perfect time to make a few resolutions about how to handle next year’s holiday!

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