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Holidays with the Family: Be Realistic About Your Expectations


Holidays and families don’t always go hand in hand, and that’s often because most of us have unrealistic expectations. Let’s face it. Even if Ozzie and Harriet did seem like the ideal family, it was more Hollywood than reality. Truth is, your real-life family tree might look more like the Addams Family than the Nelsons—especially when the holidays roll around.

If you’re hoping for the perfect family holiday, you’re setting yourself up for failure, along with the additional stress and emotional fatigue that goes with it. Not everything is going to be perfect during the holidays, and your family may not always get along. The sooner you accept that fact, the better. In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind.

Be Compassionate

Like every year, you may be dreading some of the interactions with your family. The good news is, you can choose not to let their behavior anger you. Instead, try giving them the benefit of the doubt. Just like the rest of us, everyone has a bad day now and then, and there may be good reasons for their behavior.

Your cousin who cancels at the last minute? Maybe he has a good reason. Your mother is hyper-critical of your meal planning? Maybe Christmas reminds her of the special dishes her grandmother used to make. You won’t know unless you ask, and you won’t ask if you assume the worst. They’re family, so give them the benefit of the doubt.

Accept (and Appreciate) People for Who They Are

Remember the Addams Family? They may have been strange, but they were happy. And they supported and embraced each other’s strangeness. If you only think about your family’s flaws and negative traits, you’ll overlook their good qualities. Indeed, what makes them different may be the aspect you like about them. Instead of trying to change them, embrace their diversity—and maybe they will extend the same courtesy to you.

Look for the Unexpected Moments that Are Perfect

It may not be healthy to force the perfect holiday, but that’s not to say there won’t be some bright moments that you will remember forever. Trouble is, if you’re too focused on achieving the ideal family Christmas, you might miss them. They could come in the form of an unexpected Christmas card or a memorable conversation with your uncle. It could also be something as simple as hearing your favorite Christmas song on the radio.

These moments don’t have to be noteworthy—or significant—to bring joy. The smaller details often blossom into the most treasured moments. So keep your eyes open. Some of the most wonderful memories happen when you’re least expecting them.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth StreetColumbus, OH 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.