The holidays are supposed to be about celebrating and connecting with loved ones, but they usually also involve a lot of stress. Factor in COVID-19, and it feels like the normal holiday stress is on steroids! It’s important that we acknowledge this so we don’t feel bad about potentially not enjoying the holidays this year (at least not as much as we normally do), and so we can think about ways to reduce this stress.
The biggest source of holiday stress right now for most people is difficulty setting boundaries with extended family and friends (for many parents, this is tied with the stress of having to spend lots of time cooped up at home with their stir crazy children). Some people really want to get together despite COVID, and other people feel very uncomfortable with that. In many families, the “grandparent generation” is asking to get together, and the “parent generation” is reluctant, mostly because they don’t want to unwittingly pass COVID to at-risk grandparents. This is a particularly tough dynamic to navigate. Grandparents understandably don’t want to be kept at arm’s length, and are worried about losing their bond with their grandchildren. The parent perspective is understandable too; missing out on the extended family gathering is upsetting but feels like a necessary price to pay in order to keep everybody safe.
If you’re experiencing this within your own family, you’re not alone! Here are some tips on ways to more effectively navigate this dynamic and get through the holidays as smoothly as possible:
- Don’t get caught up in arguments about who is right or wrong. These conversations are so hard to resist (“I’m sure I can convince Grandma that it’s really her I’m trying to protect!”) but they usually go nowhere and leave everybody feeling defensive and upset.
- Start by validating the other person’s perspective. They will be much more open to hearing your side of things if they feel like you understand and care about their side. For example, you might start by saying “I know how much you miss the kids and how hard this is on you, and I’m so sad that we can’t be together, too.”
- When you assert your boundary, own it as your perspective. Again, this conveys that you aren’t saying you’re right (and that the other person is wrong), you are just saying what works for you. “I’ve given it a lot of thought and as sad as it makes me, I’m just not comfortable getting together for the holidays this year.”
- Don’t get sucked into arguments that are attempts to change your mind. It’s a good idea to hear the other person out, but you don’t need to defend yourself. Your job is just to listen and, when necessary, repeat your perspective: “I hear you… I agree, it’s so hard not to be together and especially hard on you… it’s just not something I’m comfortable with.”
We hope this helps with some of the conversations around the holidays. This is a tough year and we’re all just trying to make it through as intact as possible.