Celebrating the Holidays: How to Survive Changing Family Dynamics

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If you are part of a family, odds are pretty good that you’ve experienced changing dynamics within your family. The addition of a child, the loss of a loved one, marriage, divorce, aging parents, a serious health diagnosis, family disagreements and more can bring tension or stress that you may not be aware of. During the Holidays, this can be true, and its this time of year that our discontent is much more prominent.

So, in the realm of changing family dynamics how does a person survive the Holidays? 

Acknowledge things are different

Acknowledging that change has happened or is happening is powerful. Acknowledgment will put you in the mindset to more graciously interact with your family and possibly be an agent for positivity.  You can say to yourself, “things are different now” and ask “How are things different, and why?” 

Name your feelings

As you think about getting together with family, name how you feel about it. “I am angry that…” or “I am sad because…” or “Things were better when…” Identifying your feelings will free you to do something about them. Ignoring your feelings will cause you to, perhaps, interact negatively with those you love and diminish your time together.

Closely related: Talk about it

Talking is the best therapy, right? Intentionally struggling with these complex emotions out loud brings them to the surface in order for you, and others, to deal with them. Perhaps it’s too much to talk to your Aunt Laura about how changing family dynamics affect you but talk to your significant other, or your children as you guide them through change. Take time to process openly and honestly. “Can you help me understand why I feel this way…” or “How am I supposed to face so-and-so when they are so…” are ways to open up those conversations. 

Remember that others may not feel the same way as you, so respect boundaries, spaces, and emotions.

Exercise grace

Remember that amidst changing family dynamics, everyone is affected. Each person is bringing to the table their backstory – their hurts, their joys, their wounds, and their wounding. When a family member drives you crazy, try taking a deep breath and ask yourself, “how can I be gracious instead of judgmental or unkind?” Your children will follow your example. They are looking to you to set the tone. Be gracious and kind and your children will catch that spirit.

Find joy in the new

Where and when possible establish new traditions or modify previous traditions that no longer work because of changing family dynamics. Perhaps you always used to go your parent’s home for Christmas Eve and now that has become impossible.  Look at change as an opportunity for new experiences and traditions and you’ll go a long way in living out the spirit of the Holidays. “We used to do things this way, but let’s try it this way this year…” may be something you say.

In all things: love

The spirit of the Holidays is one of love, hope, joy, and peace. No matter your religious affiliation, perhaps you can intentionally find ways to live out these positive actions. Give to an organization in need in the name of the loved one you lost. Spend an extra 10 minutes reading to your kids in the evening. Do a fun activity with your family that might encourage joy. Meditate – especially when you feel the worst.

Remember that the Holidays are less about where, when, and how you celebrate, and more about the people and the stories (past and present) surrounding these holy days.  

My hope is that one and all can truly say Happy Holidays!

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