You CAN go home again! Tips to deal with loved ones during the holidays

Holidays can bring both joys and stresses for Military Service Members and their families. For many, it’s a time to connect with relatives and friends, some of whom you might only see on special occasions. While holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect, those seasonal get-togethers aren’t always easy. Going “home” to see the people you grew up with can be a challenge once you’ve grown into an adult who’s moved out, moved on, and maybe even built a young family of your own. Being aware of what might come up and planning ahead for how to deal with sticky situations can help you navigate them better and bring peace.

Old patterns

As an adult, it’s hard to avoid being drawn into old—sometimes negative—behavior patterns or ways of communicating. For example, maybe you and your “little” sibling (who’s probably an adult themselves) can’t stop arguing. Or maybe your dad just can’t help but look over your shoulder (and “give advice”) as you carve the turkey. If you only see your family now and then, they might view you as you were when you were younger instead of as you are now. And even just being together in the same place can ramp up old issues.

Instead of getting drawn back into old habits, think ahead about potential friction points with loved ones and decide how you want to respond. Focus on slowing down and thoughtfully interacting rather than reacting to your emotions. Also, be patient with others because they might be overwhelmed or stressed. And remember to stay positive and true to yourself and those changes you’ve made since the last time you saw everyone.

Extra pressure

There are so many extra sources of pressure during the holidays. You might have certain expectations for how you want your celebration to go, which can lead to anxiety to make things perfect and disappointment if things don’t go smoothly. Trying to meet those expectations might put you on edge or give you a short fuse when dealing with those around you, even if you don’t realize it. And don’t forget the extra costs for travel, meals, gifts, and even decorations, which can mess with your monthly budget before you know it. Financial stress can become a major source of conflict with your spouse or partner if you aren’t on the same page.

To keep pressure from building up and taking over, practice mindfulness to stay grounded, even when things don’t go as planned. If you’re facing extra costs, be sure to set a budget and make a plan with your family or partner. And focus on open communication to keep stress from impacting your relationships.

Coming together

Special occasions often mean getting together with extended, blended or stepfamily members, and in-laws. Those unique times can be a chance to check-in with folks you don’t talk to that often and reconnect with them in a meaningful way. But those large gatherings can also be ripe for tension as guests with different backgrounds and complex histories collide at the dinner table. Not only that, but each person might have different traditions or ways they like to celebrate, which can sometimes be tough to balance when everyone is together.

Help keep the holiday fun by managing conflict effectively and using healthy relationship habits. For example, keep the conversation light and avoid discussing hot topics or escalating disagreements. To cool down a heated discussion, take a break outside before it goes too far.

…And being apart

Since the holidays are so often focused on gatherings, family, and friends, they can end up highlighting experiences of separation and loss. Whether it’s a Military Service Member who is deployed or duty bound in another location, or noticing a missing place setting for a loved one who has passed, the holidays can be a reminder of what’s missing. And for divorced or separated parents, kids might split their time and end up being apart from either mom or dad during the holiday.

It can be difficult to keep your spirits up when reminders of things that are missing seem to be everywhere. It’s important to ask for support and combat loneliness during those sensitive times. Make sure you have a friend or family member who knows you might be struggling, so you can ask for help if you need it. And keep an eye on your alcohol intake to help prevent feeling overwhelmed by depression or sadness.

Tough questions

The holidays can be fun to catch up with old friends, hear updates, and find out what everyone is up to. But the flip side is you might get asked about what you’re up to. As a Military Service Member, you might get questions about your job, a recent deployment, or other things related to operational security. And you could get asked about things you simply can’t or don’t want to discuss (for example, combat).

One key strategy for avoiding tough questions is to focus on good news from others and keep the attention on their joy. Plan ahead and think through how you want to respond in case people ask about work. You might also consider sharing just enough to end the conversation—without feeling phony or rude.


CHAMP wants to know:

Did this information help change your opinion or perspective?

References

Brown, J. (1999). Bowen family systems theory and practice: Illustration and critique. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 20(2), 94–103. doi:10.1002/j.1467-8438.1999.tb00363.x

Fingerman, K. L., Sechrist, J., & Birditt, K. (2013). Changing views on intergenerational ties. Gerontology, 59(1), 64–70. doi:10.1159/000342211

Shattell, M., & Johnson, A. (2017). Three simple mindfulness practices to manage holiday stress. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 55(12), 2–4. doi:10.3928/02793695-20171117-01

Suitor, J. J., Sechrist, J., Plikuhn, M., Pardo, S. T., & Pillemer, K. (2008). Within-family differences in parent–child relations across the life course. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(5), 334–338. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00601.x

Whitton, S. W., Waldinger, R. J., Schulz, M. S., Allen, J. P., Crowell, J. A., & Hauser, S. T. (2008). Prospective associations from family-of-origin interactions to adult marital interactions and relationship adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(2), 274–286. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.22.2.274