Surviving the holidays with dysfunctional or deceased relatives
Lurking beneath the glitter of the holiday season, murmuring under the jingling bells, waiting after all the turkey has been eaten, is an undeniable melancholy felt by many people during this most wonderful time of the year.
I wanted to write a holiday survival guide to help you stay sane over the next two months, but also wanted to put my own spin on it.
No one has a perfect family (aka you're not alone)
My father and sister died while I was in high school, and the holidays following this mostly involved my mother and I staring down at Chinese takeout on the table.
When I married my husband, I grew to love the crazy holiday dinners we spent at his family's house.
My mother-in-law has this electric buffet contraption that's like a crock pot for keeping multiple side dishes warm, and the mashed potatoes sitting there while the turkey cooked — enough food to feed the army that typically gathered at her house — was so symbolic to me.
It said family. It symbolized that there were so many people to cook for, you needed a special contraption to do it.
Then, last December, my father-in-law died. So this year will be sad.
If you know someone spending holidays alone, they would probably appreciate it so much if you invited them to dinner! Even if they say no, the offer will really fill their heart.
And if you're alone, know that you're not alone, in that you're not the only one. Anyway, many people have family and hate them! This is a difficult time of year for many. Do something really nice for yourself; maybe take a little trip or head to a movie.
Honor any departed loved ones with a prayer before dinner. It might feel sad, but it's better than ignoring that they're not there.
Whether you, like my family, are missing lost loved ones or the thought of spending one more holiday meal arguing about politics with good ol' Uncle Sam, the holidays can be a time of highs and lows.
Here are a few tips for staying sane this holiday season:
1. It's okay to avoid political battles at the dinner table.
You're not responsible for upholding the values of your political party at Thanksgiving. It's not always easy crossing party lines at dinner, but hopefully if anything it helps us all see that the other side is a person, and not an ideology.
It's easy to write someone's character off entirely because of political disagreements. But this is a microcosm of what's happening on a broader scale. Sometimes being the change means creating space for divergent points of views.
If we can't get along with our families, how can we expect Congress to get along?
My brother-in-law was most notorious for saying obnoxious things just to get me riled up, and my Jersey-girl instincts would kick in, always ready to rumble.
But over time I realized that the truth doesn't care what I think of it. It's fine to debate, it's fine to leave it alone. We're not responsible for what other people think, and letting go of the need to be right is a powerful way to promote peace.
While it's important to stand up for what you believe in, nobody is going to solve the world's problems over turkey dinner.
One solution that's kind of fun is to pretend you're an anthropologist gathering information about an isolated tribe. Observe and be amused!
Some families may want to choose avoiding politics all together. In my experience, just because I want to avoid a certain topic doesn't mean other people will agree.
In that case, you have the option to engage or observe — your choice!
2. You're an adult and free to set boundaries to avoid replaying childhood dynamics.
There's a saying: If you think you've grown spiritually, go spend time with your family.
There's so much truth to this. It's easy to feel super evolved in daily life and then head home to the holidays only to find yourself losing your cool, yelling at relatives, replaying the same tired dynamics that drove you mad as a kid.
The first thing I want to mention is there's no rule saying you have to spend the holidays with your family.
If the thought of noshing on turkey with a person that makes you want to hurl fills you with dread, skip dinner! You're an adult and don't need anyone's permission to do what you wish on the holidays.
Even if you're alone, sometimes that's better than spending the day with toxic family members. Sure, you may wish your family was normal, but if it's not, then it's best to accept this and do what makes you happy.
If you do choose to head home, set boundaries if you need to. Whether you decide in advance that you won't engage in discussion about certain topics or have a canned response prepared for commonly infuriating scenarios, take care of yourself!
You may want to decide beforehand that you'll only stay for a few hours. This will help you keep your cool with a mantra, just two more hours.
This is probably the hardest, yet most important piece of finding peace no matter what you're dealing with. Accept your family, your situation and yourself, exactly as it is.
Allowing yourself to grieve what you wish existed but will never have is an important part of healing and finding peace.
Only when you truly accept the insanity of a family member or the painful behaviors that scrape up against old wounds, can you make decisions to support you now, as an adult.
Once you accept who people are, it frees you from needing to control them.
You're never going to change your mom or dad to be the more loving person you needed growing up. You're never going to bring back your dead father or sister or uncle. Your family won't change.
Instead it's your power to accept these truths and show up for you, in the best way you know how.
4. Maintain a spiritual practice.
When life is chaotic, a spiritual practice keeps you rooted. Whether you spend five minutes meditating every day or journaling or 30 minutes practicing yoga, do something every day that connects you to the truth of who you really are.
This will center you and help you move through this season in a way you're proud of. Download a free meditation below.
I hope this tips served you. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.
Suzanne Heyn is a spirituality teacher and online course creator. Her life-changing online course experiencesand popular blog help people heal their hearts and love who they are. With an online community of more than 20,000 people, Suzanne is known for her practical, authentic take on spirituality that creates space for deep healing and heartfelt connection.
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