What the heck are we all going to do about the holidays this year?
Its unavoidable, this year there is an element to the holidays that we all need to address. No matter what you celebrate, family and gathering are central focuses this time of year. But in 2020 gathering has become a topic that is rife with stress, starkly different viewpoints, and emotions… all making conversations around it rife with potential conflict.
My family celebrates Christmas, and I’m a sucker for a cozy Christmas day with my family. The problem this year is that my family doesn’t share a household. My sister, her husband and my two young nieces live in a condo in Toronto. My parents, live up in Northern Ontario where they are currently tucked away safely and avoiding all unnecessary contact with people.
So we need to talk about Christmas and gathering. Odds are that you also need to at some level, so I’m going to share some tips to help you manage the potential conflict in those conversations.
The first thing you need to remember is that public health units have asked people not to gather inside during the holidays this year. They are asking people to stick to their households to prevent the spread of COVID. You can learn more about your own public health unit directives here: Find Your Health Unit
Realistically, we all know that not everyone is going to strictly follow this directive. I wish they would, but I’m writing this expecting that people have different viewpoints and tolerance levels. I’m not encouraging anyone to do anything other than follow their public health units. But that means having some very difficult conversations and making some very difficult decisions.
The time to start the conversation is NOW
Start having conversations now. Talk to family members you normally gather with and start explaining your perspective and concerns. Listen to theirs. By starting the conversation now, no one will feel that you ‘dumped the news on them’.
When you’re having those conversations, be understanding that not everyone has the same priorities. For some, the feeling of isolation is a growing problem, for others it might be a need to feel ‘normal’ for just a few days. For me, I’m desperate to feel the energy and love that comes with our three households being together. We’ve been good, we’ve followed the rules…it feels unfair that we’re being asked to stay apart.
But I also understand how scary this is for my parents who are high risk, and my sister and I are terrified at the thought of them getting sick because they felt pressured to see us. Those aren’t easy things to feel, and they’re not always easy to communicate.
If you start talking now about needs and concerns and fears then you’ve got time to digest what you’re hearing. If you’re having the conversations now, you’re getting an idea of where your family stands, you’ve got time to have multiple conversations to fully understand each other.
Make sure you’re trying to have actual conversations.
When you’re having these conversations, make sure they are actual conversations. Sending a group text about who is bringing the mashed potatoes is fine, sending a text that you’re not coming for Christmas isn’t going to be your best option. What you end up with is a back and forth, not a conversation. You miss hearing their tone, you miss being able to ask for clarification as someone is saying something and you miss actual connection.
Pick up the phone, or better yet, have a family video chat about what everyone is doing. That way you will have a better understanding of what people are feeling and thinking.
I can’t tell you how many misunderstandings come out of emails and text messages. Here’s an example of that; I might end with something like ‘have a nice day’ and mean it in a happy, cheery way. Someone might read it in a short or sarcastic tone. Try saying have a nice day out loud right now, say it in varying tones. Hear that snarky one? That’s how easy it is to lose control of your message when someone else is reading it in their tone of the moment.
Don’t forget about their marshmallow!
I often talk about marshmallows, that soft and squishy part of us that makes us human. The part where we are vulnerable, the part where we feel our feelings and do our best to protect. Speak from your mashmallow, and when the person on the other end of the line is frustrating you take a second to picture their marshmallow, remember that they have one too. Try your best to be kind to their soft and squishy inside too.
Don’t bring politics or a social media meme into things. This is about you and them and what you’re doing about the holidays. It’s not about a video that claims it’s a hoax or their feelings about a particular politician. If they start down that road, remind them that this isn’t a debate about the pandemic, it’s a conversation about loved ones and their needs for the holidays.
Try to find some creative solutions or compromises. Is your Mother in Law intent that she needs to see your kids? Maybe you can arrange an outside activity that lets everyone spend some time together but still spaced out. Maybe someone in advance can drop off gifts that you all open together. Or perhaps everyone bakes a family recipe together on a video chat.
Be clear and honest.
Be honest. Don’t skirt the truth because you’re afraid to be confronted about not coming. At some point it’s going to come out, so just be honest. And since you’re starting the conversation early you’re giving people time to come to terms with your decision.
What if they don’t like your decision or you don’t like theirs? This year especially you need to remember that everyone is trying to do the best that they can. We all aren’t going to agree, but we can separate the problem from the person. Good people can make bad judgements, you don’t have to vilify them. This year more than most, give the people you love some grace.
Make a plan.
Now, start making a plan to have those conversations, I’m cheering for you all. Plan to talk at a time that allows you to talk and not be stressed and rushed, same with them. Write out what is important to you if you think you’ll forget and be flustered. Plan for how you’ll respond if you’re feeling heated. And if you’re struggling with how to talk about it with your people, lets book a session so you can use me as your potential conflict sounding board.
Sarah Turl knows how hard these conversations can be, but she also understands that avoiding them doesn’t work. Her plans for Christmas morning involve sleeping in, and spoiling the dog (and maybe her husband too)
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