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Creating a great holiday with your family

Rolf Godon, Guest Columnist

Here we go, headlong into the holiday season.

For the vast majority of us it is family time. We gather together to give thanks for our abundance, the harvest and family. We travel far and wide over crowded freeways and congested airports to be with our families. We come bearing gifts and to acknowledge one another as family. Some of us who have no family to be with are invited by friends to participate as a part of their family.

There is no doubting the importance of family in our lives. And, it is during this time of the year that we particularly put our focus onto family. This focus brings on a wide array of emotional responses in us. Those of us who are fortunate in having a family whose members like one another and maintain close relationships will probably experience feelings of warmth, anticipation and real caring for our family members. We look forward to seeing them and catching up on life. We think about an appropriate gift to give them.

However, a common scenario is one where there is some tension between some family members.

For example: “Sally is so obnoxious every year. She dominates the conversations and no one can get a word in. It just ruins it for everyone.” “My brother and I used to be close. Now all he thinks about is money and success. I always feel like now he looks down on us as beneath him.” “Frank and Jackie’s kids are so hyper. They are always running around and getting into everything and the parents just let them do it. It drives me crazy.” “Last year Edna and I had a little disagreement and haven’t talked since.”

We don’t need to nor do we want to hang onto tensions with family members. We want our holiday gatherings to be harmonious. Thus, with the focus on family during this time of the year, the time is opportune to address and reduce any existing tensions. I will present some ideas to help achieve this goal.

I. FORGIVENESS

This one is so important and powerful in achieving the goal of harmony. We have a great role model for that in the one whose birth we celebrate at Christmastime.

To me the most valuable way in which to practice forgiveness is to look into myself and practice letting go of the upset I am holding onto regarding a family member. When I can relieve myself of the emotional reaction I have taken on I will be able to see the other person differently. For example if I can let go of the idea that I am being belittled by my brother and replace it with the idea that we are equal brothers, then I can have more compassion and greet my brother as an equal. This has an excellent chance of resulting in a positive change in that relationship because I have released myself from my own reaction.

II. AMENDS

Making amends to another is another powerful strategy to mend tensions.

To do so I must swallow my pride, and, in the name of the larger goal of positive family relationship, I offer apology for any hurt or upset that my behavior may have caused the other. This will help me let go of my part in maintaining the tension and will open up the wonderful opportunity for both of us to come to that place of honoring our relationship as family. Even if the other person does not accept our amends we can forgive what is in us and hold that person in positive regard.

III. RESTRUCTURING This is particularly helpful in those situations that create tension specifically at the family gathering. In the example of the wild kids, rather than everyone dreading that, family members might talk before the gathering and come up with strategies for redirecting the children and for childproofing the area.

Family members might take it upon themselves to become engaged with the children during the course of the event and focus their interest in more positive directions. Such strategies can also be created for redirecting the obnoxious family member. We can get that person involved in helping at the event. If alcohol is a problem for some we can declare the event an nonalcoholic one and serve those types of beverages. These creative interventions must come from perceiving these family members not as bad, but as wanting love and attention. Only then will we, as supportive family, be able to enact useful interventions.

Another scenario is where there are serious problems with a family member such as substance abuse, severe mental illness or behavioral problems. These are situations where the behavior and mental state is such that interventions are not possible and the person is so disruptive that their inclusion in family gatherings is significantly harmful to the family.

Again, we want to have compassion for their situation and at the same time a clear picture of the reality of their behavior. These feelings come from our want to have a united family including all members. However, in these cases reality might well dictate their non-inclusion. To continue to allow their presence to debilitate the family gathering is not doing good service to anyone. They must simply and compassionately be not included in the gatherings.

I hope these brief tips are of service to you during these holidays and beyond. If you wish more help in this regard please give me a call.

Rolf Godon, Ph.D., is a Psychologist in private practice in Truckee. He provides services to couples, individuals and families. He and his life partner present weekend couples workshops designed to enhance their relationships. He can be reached at 587-2557.


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