I, like many of you, have just returned from the holidays where I spent time with my family as well as with a few other business families. During this time, I was reminded of the wonder of family along with some of the challenges of being with family, especially for certain personality types.
It can be difficult to manage the many different perspectives, needs and sensitivities of a large group of related people. Everyone has ideas about how things should be done or where you should go or even what the best way to cook the turkey is. Not an easy path to navigate and yet one of the most significant ongoing tasks of our lives is to build and maintain a sense of family.
How do we make people feel included, loved and respected when we are all together for the holidays? How do we honor each other’s status needs? How do we constructively manage the inevitable conflicts? How do we balance our own needs with that of our family’s? And most importantly, how do we continue to enjoy being part of an ever-evolving family?
Being with family takes just as much, if not more, planning and intention than anything else we do in life. If we do not set out standards and a plan for how we want to be together, how will we ever achieve a greater sense of connectedness? For many families, the variable personalities and dynamics are just too complicated to let it evolve all by itself. We need to be thoughtful and intentional about how we come together and celebrate, especially during special holidays which have a natural stress already associated with them.
Here are some reflections on how to manage the holidays and special events of any kind with family.
Why? First, be clear on why are you going to celebrate the holidays with family in the first place. What do you value about family? For me, family is about a commitment to join together for the purpose of fostering ideals like love, belonging, tolerance and justice – things that really matter. Family is one of the key mechanisms in life that allows these ideas to become real when they are shaped by traditions which are handed down from generation to generation. Remind yourself of the value family brings to your life.
How much? Second, plan for the stress – it is an inevitable part of relationships and families! Build skill and capacity for managing it better. Families are our practice ground for the stress we face in life. Attempt to be boldly tolerant and patient with others. Families aren’t just about the good feelings we get from them. They are a place for us to expand and develop as human beings. Be clear about how you are going to participate and how much you are going to participate. Doing some planning before the holidays start. It’s a great time for a family meeting to chat about how and where everyone wants to participate.
How do I balance it all? For many the stress of the holidays is not the one event (like Christmas day). It is the ongoing events: the busyness of being out night after night with family, business associates and friends. So once we get together with family, we are already tired and sometimes on a short fuse. Make sure you exercise your “no’s” when appropriate. This will help you ensure your tank isn’t already empty by the time “family time” rolls around.
How can I help? Finally, on a more practical note, do your part. Consider your role and how you can help make the load lighter for others. It is a ton of work to bring family together. The cooking, cleaning, organizing, shopping and event planning are enormous. In many families, it falls on the same people year after year. Before the holidays, have a family meeting and decide how everyone will contribute. This year, we had a family meeting at Thanksgiving and made our plans for all of the holiday events: who would host, how each person would contribute, etc. So pitch in, share the load and have a laugh while you are doing it!
Ultimately, we all want to feel a greater sense of connectedness during the holidays. Being clear about why we are coming together, how much we want to be together, and balanced about everyone’s contribution can help facilitate that connectedness.