Grandma and Grandpa just called to say they would like everyone to spend the holidays with them at their Florida condo. Just imagine: All the cousins will go to the beach and play in the pool together. The adults will sip gin and tonics and have long overdue conversations. It sounds like heaven, right? Um, well, maybe. For some, family holidays mean one thing: Run the other way!
If you think parenting issues create tension between you and your mate, just wait until your sister starts issuing timeouts during Christmas dinner. What should be an idyllic family gathering – complete with champagne flutes clinking and children’s laughter floating over the low murmur of waves crashing – can easily devolve into a toxic reawakening of unresolved family tensions.
We just can’t help it. Each of us slides back into our own familiar childhood role. For example, big sister becomes the boss – not just of her kids, but of you and your kids, too. Our parenting style feels showcased, judged, and compared. As those childhood inadequacies consume us, we begin to doubt our abilities as a parent.
Here are some ideas that will help make holiday family time happy, not horrific:
Prevent disagreements by being proactive.
On the first day of the trip, invite your siblings to a meeting to discuss some of the ground rules that might crop up. Ask: What would help make the group work together more smoothly? Do we have any group rules? All the children should participate too. This is critical because this meeting helps to make interpersonal issues group issues. Children are also more likely to live with rules they had a say in creating. That also holds true for adults. So, instead of trying to muster the courage to tell your brother he needs to get his kids to bed earlier, simply put “bedtime routines” on the meeting agenda.
Other agenda items might include:
- Noise: When are quiet hours in the condo? Decide on bedtimes, naps and acceptable morning waking times.
- Routines: What needs to be taken care of at the condo before heading out to the beach or pool each morning?
- Clean up: Who’s responsible for what? Assign jobs for chores such as dishes, sweeping, table setting, meal preparation – and don’t forget to involve the kids.
- Group entertainment: What’s on everyone’s wish list? Make a list of activities and post a calendar so everyone’s needs are met.
- Conflicts: How will disputes be resolved? What are the consequences for not following the rules?
Calm your hot thoughts
When you start to feel emotional about what’s happening, tune into your self-talk – the little voice in your head that’s providing a running commentary. “My kids always act so badly in public,” or “I’m a terrible mother,” and “My sister is still treated like the golden child.” And let’s not forget this one: “They never listen!”
That little gremlin in your head only sees the worst and makes everything out to be a catastrophe. Pay attention. You can catch yourself “awful-izing.” Instead of being a victim to negative self-talk, take charge. Choose different thoughts! Replace self-blaming thoughts with cool thoughts like: “I’m a humble human who makes mistakes, just like everyone else,” and, “I need to address my children’s hearing problem eventually, but for now I’m going to roll with it”. And here’s the biggie: “I’m not at my best right now, but I’m good enough”.
Work on thought swapping in advance. If you know your own hot thoughts, write them down and in a time of calm, re-write your inner script.
I try to remind myself that while I can’t change the situation, I can always change my attitude about the situation. When things are not going well, I tell myself, “Hey, these are nice problems to have. I have a family that wants to be together and we’re all alive and well.”
Eat. Sleep. Breathe.
With situational stresses, we do better when we’re feeling good. Be sure to get a full night’s sleep, eat well – as well as you can given that it’s a vacation – and breathe. Vast quantities of research prove just how powerful and important deep breathing is for stress and overall health. It reinforces that old adage about breathing and counting to ten.
What tips do you utilize when vacationing with your extended family? Share your comments with us below!