Mental Checklist for the Tense Family Holiday Season

Most of us can imagine the picture perfect American family, and our family isn’t that.

Whether we struggle with comparison to our absurdly successful siblings or said siblings are struggling through life — and sobriety, family holidays are not easy. Subtle communications of contempt for what we are or are not doing enough of from those you’re bound to by blood can make us all dread that Thanksgiving dinner with anxiety. Maybe Dad always had that attitude or negativity that he brings to the table with the turkey. Maybe Mom’s victimhood speech is inevitably coming to let everyone know how hard she has it. Although, this isn’t a question of if we love our family or not because we most certainly do. That’s what makes it more painful. The more intimate the relationship is, the more potential there is to experience situations that hurt us. Here’s a quick few mental checks to help keep it together.

You’re not the same person you were when you last met with your family, so feel free to reintroduce yourself.

Whether you’re traveling around the world or around the block to see you family, a lot of us don’t have an emotionally safe place with our relatives to simply be who we are. With that, you’re family will probably identify you as who they’ve always known you to be. Whether it’s been a decade or a week, they’ll likely bring up stories that show the shortcomings of who you used to be. But you’re not required to be the same person that they know of years ago, let alone from day to day. We learn, we grow, and we change. You may be questioned on what gives you the audacity to think so highly of yourself, how you’re so much better than them because you’re “different” now, but those are pointless accusations that doesn’t deserve to be entertained. Don’t let others’ lack of understanding of who you are slow you down in becoming who you want to be. Keep growing with or without them. Life is too short to let others determine who you are — even your family.

Life stage expectations are bullshit that you don’t have to follow.

This is true for life, but it’s drastically more needed when we’re around family. We’re constantly bombarded with “where we should be” in life, and it’s only compounded when our family asks us if we’ve “figured it out yet.” The reality is, your parents probably haven’t figured it out yet either. There’s no shortage of people in their 40’s and 50’s having an identity/mid-life crisis, having an affair, buying a sports car, or changing jobs because they’re actually figuring themselves out too. So if you’ve changed jobs, dropped out of school, have or have not gotten into a serious relationship, or have yet to have those expected grandkids, there is no timeline for your life except the one you have given yourself. Keep running your own race because when you finish you want to make sure it’s yours that your running and not theirs.

You’re Still Valuable Outside of Relationship

This goes for conversations with friends, but is also compounded by extended family wondering when we’re going to settle down and get married. It’s probably way more evident for women since apparently women can’t have identities outside being a mother and a wife in 2019 (obvious sarcasm). This is pretty straightforward and sometimes just nice to hear: you’re just as valuable and desirable when you’re single as you are in a relationship. You don’t need a relationship to validate that truth to anyone else. Don’t let your family’s insecurity about your romantic life be contagious to your own heart and soul. You don’t need to bring someone home for the holidays or a big marriage announcement to entertain them. Love is meant to be enjoyed and experienced, not used as a social verification to prove we’re lovable to our family or even ourselves.

You’re Responsible to Your Family, Not for Them

This is a huge difference that can easily be blurred. The reality is we love our family and sometimes they have needs that we feel obligated to fulfill. While it’s true that it’s great to be kind and give to those closest to us when they are in need, the obligation is an illusion at best and a manipulating guilt trip at worst. Either way, it’s not real and what you decide to give your family is your choice. Be that your time, money, or attention, everything you give is done at your own decision and discretion. Anything given out of obligation lowers the value of the gift tremendously because we are people who want to be affectionately chosen, not a reluctant burden. Giving beyond your desire to give isn’t loving, it’s self-deprecating.

Wherever you are this holiday season, I hope you’re surrounded by love, whatever that looks like. While family can be stressful as you navigate rough waters, do your best to see family for what they are: the people who will be in your life for your entire life. Let that be a privilege, not a curse. Embrace the beauty of the season and the moment and let love flow as freely as it can admist dysfunction. Feel free to let me know what you think about these tips in the comments or DMs. Have a great holiday. ❤️

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Marcus Lynn

Marcus Lynn

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Aspiring social psychologist. Inspired to build better lives by building better relationships, restoring connections that were broken.