The Holidays Are All About The Family You Created
Well, it’s that time of year again — the holidays are right around the corner! A fun, exciting season full of relaxation, traditions, and quality family time.
But it’s not like that for everyone. For some, quality family time can feel … well, anything but relaxing. Some soak up every minute and look forward to spending time with their extended loved ones, while others spend the next few weeks absolutely dreading the obligatory family get-togethers due to anxiety, depression, and/or disfunction.
Whatever your reason is for dreading the holidays, let me be the one to say it: your holiday experience isn’t about anyone but you and the family you’ve created.
Yes, for real. Visiting your grandparents is a beautiful thing to do — but not if it’s sending you into a panic attack for a week leading up to it.
Hanging out with your adult siblings is a special thing not everyone has, yes. However, just because you may have something not everyone else has, doesn’t mean there is now an obligation for you to do what they would do if they were in your shoes.
Did you know that?
I sure as heck did not; not until I went to therapy and started talking about all the things I *had* to do. My therapist would stop me and ask, “what do you mean you *have* to do that? Who said this is something you must do?”
I replied with something like, “well I mean no one is making me do it, I guess. But if I don’t go over there for Christmas, I’ll catch hell about it one way or the other. And I don’t want to deal with that. But I also don’t want to be around X or hear about Y. X and Y stress me out very much. I feel like I’m going to throw up for four days leading up to going to things at their house. I don’t know what to do.”
And when I say my mind was BLOWN by her response to me … whew!
Very gently, she said, “Did you know you don’t have to do anything for your extended family?”
I was confused. “My what? My siblings, my parents … they’re not extended family. They’re just my family.”
She shook her head no. “Ma’am, you have three kids and a husband. They’re your family now. They come before everyone else. Your parents, your sisters, your brothers … they’re extended. If you want to see them, great. If not, don’t.”
“But … but my aunts and uncles and cousins are extended I thought?”
“Would ‘family of origin’ feel better to use instead?”
I nodded yes. “So my ‘family of origin,’ I don’t have to do anything? But they’ll be so angry if I don’t show up. They’ll hate me. I need a good reason to not go, and me feeling how I feel isn’t acceptable to them.”
She looked at me quizzically. We talked at length about the pros and cons of attending Christmas at X’s house, talked about what if they do hate me and what if they don’t, my feelings being acceptable or not, etc.
Then she asked me, “What do you want to do on Christmas Day? Don’t hesitate, don’t think about anyone else or their expectations. What do you want?”
For the longest time when she would ask me what I want regarding pretty much any topic, I didn’t know the answer. I’d cry and say “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I like. I don’t know anything about myself apparently.”
But after a while I started to get the hang of it, and this time I knew my answer:
“I want to wake up slow. I want my coffee while I’m in my pajamas, on the couch, watching my kids unwrap their presents. I don’t want to rush around. I don’t want to be somewhere at a certain time. I just want to … be.”
“And what would happen if you did that, do you think?”
I wasn’t sure … but I was willing to find out. How many Christmases with my small children am I guaranteed?
It turned out beautifully. Yes, X was angry with me. Yes, I disappointed them. Yes, I went against everything they expected of me. But everyone survived.
And we had our first uninterrupted Christmas, ever. The people who love my kids (and don’t have three small children of their own) came to our house to visit. Our kids played as much as they wanted to with their new toys, napped when they were tired, ate food they liked, and wore clothes they wanted to wear.
No fights, no arguments, no meltdowns, no tantrums. No anxiety, no panic attacks, no holding-it-together-until-I-get-home moments.
Just … happiness. Because the family I created — they are what the holidays are all about.
May you find the courage to find your peace this season, my friends.