Dealing with Pushy Relatives During the Holidays

Tips for Minimizing Gift Overload this ChristmasFor some, holidays are a wonderful break from everyday life. The car is loaded up, the kids are excited, and you spend the day/weekend/month with family you haven’t seen nearly as often as you would like. The time leading up to the big day is spent looking anxiously at the calendar, excited for the opportunity to see those you love so dearly.

This article is meant for the rest of us.

You know, those of us who remember last year, when your sister-in-law said something about your parenting. Or when Grandpa ignored you when you said you didn’t want your three-year-old watching Rambo. Or when your great-aunt asked if you were sure you needed that large of a slice of pie. Though you will the days to not pass so quickly, you can see the date approaching, and your palms get sweaty. Your heart races. Your chest tightens, and at the thought of spending time with family makes you feel claustrophobic.

It is difficult to get into the spirit of the holidays when it requires spending time with people who can be damaging to your psyche. The pain can feel intense, particularly with the notion that family members are supposed to be those who nurture and uplift you, and a memory of the acute pain can make you feel powerless.

So this year you are going to reclaim your power, because you deserve to feel safe and feel respected, especially with family members. And here is how:

  • Revisit the painful event. When your sister-in-law made that comment, what did you feel? How did you react? How do you feel about your reaction? Accept your reaction as the best that you could do in that moment with the information and experience you had. Your hurt feelings were and are valid, and you are welcome to grieve for your past self for experiencing something that pained you so.
  • Create an action plan. Should Grandpa ignore your boundaries regarding your children again, what can you do? Have a mental list of alternate activities you could do with your children, such as going on a walk or taking them to another room to read a book. If you feel safe, include saying to Grandpa, “If you are going to spend time with my children, you need to respect the boundaries I have set with them. If you choose to ignore those boundaries, then you are choosing to not spend time with my children.”
  • Rehearse a phrase to have in your back pocket. “That is a really inappropriate thing to say,” is surprisingly useful in many situations. When confronted with a difficult situation, our minds can go blank. Having something that you have repeated to yourself, particularly in replaying what your Great Aunt said last year, can make it easier to stand up for yourself in a situation that left you feeling powerless before. Finding your voice is difficult if you’re used to suppressing it–give yourself allowance for it to feel raw and abrasive at first as you get used to using it.

You deserve to feel safe, and even more so when with family during a holiday. Give yourself plenty of allowance as you explore how to create that safety for yourself and your children, and may this year be better than last.

Keighty Brigman is terrible at crafting, throwing birthday parties, and making sure there isn’t food on her face. Allegedly, her four children manage to love her anyway. 

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