At 22 years old, I am still learning how to be whole in the midst of a mosaic family. Through divorce and remarriage, my team has been broken and pieced back together into something beautiful — something I would never trade. Holidays, however, can be a challenge.
On an average Christmas Day, I visit three to four households. While driving from one family to the next, I can begin to feel as if I’ve fallen through a crack somewhere, or as if I do not fully belong in any home. I long for everyone to know they are equally loved and cherished, but am forced to divide my attention. Irrational guilt takes root and steals joy from me.
Eventually, I realized it does not do anyone any good for me to show up as a fractured version of myself. If you are struggling physically or emotionally with balancing loved ones during the holidays, here are some tried-and-true ways to pursue peace, even in the chaos.
Set expectations early.
Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule holiday visits. Communicate clearly about when you will be where and plan strategically so that you are able to participate in at least one significant event at each home. Advocate for yourself and your needs, and allot breaks for a coffee run or a good book between locations. Make sure you’ll have room to sleep and refuel.
If you struggle with assertiveness, then drawing boundaries with family members may be the hardest part of the holidays. However, managing your loved ones’ hopes and assumptions is an important part of honoring your relationships.
Do what you can.
If you cannot make it to a family member’s home for a holiday, arrange in advance to make them feel special through another avenue. Send a thoughtful gift to their celebration, call them in the morning or invite them to an event on a later date. By proactively deciding upon specific ways to reveal your appreciation for far-away family, you can avoid internally guilt-tripping yourself when you must be elsewhere on the big day.
While enjoying your visit with one side of your family, do not obsess over what the day has already held or will hold. Fight to be fully where you are. Treasure conversations, relax and leave your cell phone in your bag. You will not regret this.
We live in a culture of comparison. The voices that tell us our families, lives and selves are insufficient can become deafening during the holidays. To turn them down, commit to focusing on what is in front of you. Seek the good in your people and your places, if only because they are yours. Readjust your focus by donating to a family in need or a cause you believe in. Choice by choice, strengthen your capacity for gratitude and be thankful in the little moments, when it can become easy to be discouraged by faulty logistics or unmet desires.
Seek the good in your people and your places, if only because they are yours.
Create your own tradition.
At least once during your holiday family marathon, carve out space to celebrate the significance of the day for you as an individual. Build a small tradition that is completely yours. Doing so will remind you who you are and what you care about, which may be influenced by your family members, but is not defined by them. Pull over for a solo picnic, listen through an album, draw a picture — it’s up to you.
Instead of frustration, extend grace when your family members evince sadness that you cannot spend the entire holiday with them. Further, practice grace internally; you cannot be everywhere at once and you are doing the best you can.
Have patience with your loved ones and yourself. Find freedom in the fact that no person or family is perfect and, in the words of John Steinbeck, “now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” We’re all rooting for you.
How do you navigate complicated family dynamics during the holidays?
Images via onefinestay