Heading home for the holidays can conjure the warm fuzzies of nostalgia and anxiety of old patterns or family conflict. Whether heading home from college, returning to your childhood home with your own family in tow, or hosting family yourself, spending time with family can often pull us into old patterns. It's like running into an old family friend who eternally views you as your 18 year old self. Change can be hard for people to accept.
It is often in these early relationships that we learn many of our relating habits, whether through modeling, family rules, parenting styles, or life circumstances. When you have been working on improving your self and relationships, going home can feel like the ultimate test. Family systems want to keep the status quo. When you start to act differently, hold boundaries, or question the family dynamics, people react to restore the balance.
As you venture home for the holidays you will be pulled to act in the old ways of the system. Here are some reminders as you practice new skills in an old environment:
- Remember that you can only be responsible for yourself. You cannot control what others do or say, nor can you take responsibility for them. Speak for yourself, your experience, your needs, your feelings, and your hopes. Be mindful to make healthy choices for yourself and let others make their own decisions.
- Trust that everyone is doing the best they can. All families have disappointing moments, say hurtful things, or miss the mark. The stress of this time of year may increase these moments. Even the most unhelpful relating styles, both in ourselves and in others, usually come from a place of good intentions. The tactic may have helped early on in life, but now may be backfiring. Remind yourself to assume the best in others, it will help you be more gracious to yourself and your family.
- You are not the family therapist. After gaining awareness of yourself or your family issues, it can be tempting to point out the dynamics or challenges others face. Be aware, speak honestly, and be gentle. Remember your own growth happens slowly and with gracious support, and so it will for others if/when they are ready to see it.
- Self care, self care, self care! If you are anticipating a challenging day, schedule some down time before and after to take care of yourself. Excuse yourself for a walk. Drink a cup of coffee in solitude. Go to bed when you need to. Call a trustworthy friend. Schedule a massage when you get home!
- You will fail, and that's okay. Practicing new skills is clumsy at first. Imagine a junior high girl wearing heels for the first time, it's a little awkward! Eventually you will grow into these new practices and they will become second nature. Use this time with family to increase your awareness of yourself. Be gentle with yourself when you fail. Journal about your findings and use it as an opportunity to try again next time.
Finally, find joy in these moments with family! Here's to a healthy & happy holiday season!