No matter how much you enjoy spending quality time with family and friends around the holidays, tensions and stress inevitably escalate as different personalities and preferences collide. Perhaps you have a politically passionate or pushy relative who excels at making you uncomfortable with their opinions or overly-personal questions. Even under the best of circumstances, with everyone’s emotions, expectations and exhaustion under one roof, misunderstandings are bound to happen. Rather than gobble up your feelings or lash out in frustration, chew on one of these three options to create deeper, healthier connections.
1 – Show up prepared. Similar to knowing what dishes will likely be on the Thanksgiving menu, you probably can guess what emotional buttons those in attendance might push. Rather than play defense or keep score on game day, plan for how you will handle uncomfortable situations.
If you know your sibling will eventually serve up sarcasm on your parenting skills or career choice in front of others, be proactive. Pick up the phone prior and say, “It’s been too long since we’ve truly connected, and I’m looking forward to really hearing what’s going on in your life Turkey Day, rather than falling into old habits of teasing each other. Life is too short for that stuff anymore.”
Should your sibling slam you anyway that day, be prepared to deliver a respectful, follow-up comment or question. Two options include, “When we gather together, I’ve noticed you choose to openly find fault with my style or choices. Today would be way more fun for everyone if we could find ways to support one another. Are you game?”. Or, if you want to be more direct, ask, “May I ask why you feel the need to speak negatively of me and my choices when you have an audience?”.
Oftentimes, family patterns continue because no one is bold enough to have an authentic, honest conversation (while staying calm and respectful) about changing them.
2 – Recognize your role. It takes two to tango, so how are you contributing to the toxic environment you want to avoid? Does confirmation bias influence you to only see what you already believe about another, rather than focus on how others have changed or grown? Did you hear the seven wonderful statements your mother made before she mentioned you looked tired and thin? Sure, your brother’s girlfriend may have more tattoos or piercings than you prefer, but did you notice how his eyes sparkle when she speaks? Do you need to be right rather than get it right and let others form their own opinions?
Do you refer to your children as the athlete, smart or messy one in front of them or others? Labels create limits, both in the eyes of others and the hearts of those you reference. Recognizing the unhealthy behavior you bring to the table allows you the opportunity to make better choices.
3 – Think before you speak. Easier said than done, right? My 82-year old mother and I share the annoying trait of processing our thoughts out loud. This behavior lends itself to saying things better left unsaid. Last week, during a visit with my folks, my 92-year old dad accidentally wore his hearing aid in the shower. As he handed my mother the wet device, out came her vocalized thoughts. “I hope you didn’t ruin it!” Being me, I said, “That wasn’t kind to say.”
Only after the words left my mouth did I realize we were both guilty of shaming and blaming. Thankfully, my family now places value on speaking our truth, not our mind, so both mom and I took responsibility and apologized for our unhealthy words. Mom let dad know he’s still a strong man who simply made a mistake anyone could, and I acknowledged mom for all the hard work she puts in daily to keep her husband of 59 years going strong!
May you use these strategies to deepen your relationships, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day, making the world around you a more blessed place.