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When families aren't friendly: help for holidays and other disasters

It’s holiday time. A time to gather together, give thanks to God, enjoy friends and family, celebrate our blessings, give and receive gifts and love.

Except, for many, being together with family is NOT a blessing.

holiday berries at Sanctuary Christian Counseling in Shippensburg PA

One of the worst parts of the holiday season for many folks is the stark contrast between the Norman Rockwell picture of American family life and the reality of their own dysfunctional families. Nowhere is this more profound than during the holiday season, when seemingly everyone is locked in the bosom of their loving family, eating turkey, unwrapping gifts and watching football.

For many, locked in unhappy childhood memories and current drama, the holidays become something to be endured, rather than celebrated.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to distress, distraction or distancing during this year’s holiday season. You can make a difference, even if it’s just you taking the high road.

Here are some ways to cope with family drama:

1) You know your own family’s brand of “crazy,” so plan for it. It probably hasn’t changed, and denying it’s real will only make the reality that much harder to bear.

2) Invite an outsider, or two, or more. Most families behave a lot better if there’s another in their midst. It might be a lifesaver for the outsider, too. Think about a new widow or widower, an elderly couple, a new family or coworkers without another place to go. Lots of people would welcome a holiday invitation, and your family will be on its best behavior.

3) Recruit reasonable family members to keep those who aren’t under control, and to intervene if things get crazy. Think of jobs those who are most likely to dramatize can do that will keep them busy and out of everyone else’s hair. For instance, a whiny teen can be recruited as a babysitter (for pay!) for younger family members.

4) Figure out who in the family is most likely to agree with your assessment of the dysfunction and talk to them ahead of time. Strategize with them over scenarios you know are likely to occur. For instance, Great Uncle George monopolizes the conversation with whoever is willing to listen. Your buddy and you can agree on a signal so the other can “rescue” them if necessary. Brainstorm ways to divert the most troublesome situations that are likely to occur. It can be fun to get to know this family member better, too, and to act as a team.

5) Consider advocating for a dry gathering, particularly if there are people in the family who have a substance abuse issue. There is sparking cider and sparkling grape juice, and they are great for celebrations, and don’t cause alcohol-induced silliness. Some family members for whom holidays are all about alcohol might not come: That’s ok. It will keep everyone else from having their holiday ruined by people potentially being unable to handle their drinking.

6) Have a seating chart for family dinners, which puts people who rub each other the wrong way far away from each other. Have some of the kids make cute place markers because most people will not change them if they’re set up when they go to the table. Sit the person you’re most worried about next to you or your buddy so you can head off problems before they get out of hand.

7) Provide an escape so shy, introverted family members don’t become overwhelmed. Try for a variety of activities in different areas, so everyone is not congregated in a small space with no options. You can consider football in one room, a movie in another, a game somewhere else, and a walk outside. Try to give everyone something they will enjoy.

8) Control the conversation if you can. Come prepared with some conversation starters to get and keep talk going, and some red herrings for when the conversation goes South. Here are some ideas (many more can be found online!):

· What are you thankful for this year?

· What is your favorite memory of (name another person at the table)?

· What was the best day of your life so far? Why?

· If you could go anywhere in 2019, where would that be? Why?

· What is the best way to cheer you up when you are upset?

· What do you think the secret to staying young is?

· If you could meet anyone, who would you meet, and why?

The holiday season can be a blessed time, but it can also be stressful. If you are having a hard time coping with the stress of the holidays, give us a call. We would love to meet you and help you live your best life, both at the holidays and after.

Sanctuary Christian Counseling LLC

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257


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