The holidays have a way of creating an intense buildup of anticipation and then leaving us with a profound sense of disappointment and stress. Of course, this is not always the case and it may not be everyone’s experience. But for those of you reading this who feel like this speaks to you, you are not alone. This time of year can be stressful. Add a global pandemic to the mix and we have a recipe for some complex emotions. For many of us, this year has been drastically different. It’s safe to say that this holiday celebration will also be different from previous years. If you have been feeling that old traditions no longer feed your soul; this may be a good opportunity to shift. Think about what this time of year looks like and use this space to create new holiday traditions with your chosen family.
For example, instead of traveling a long way to see a distant relative that asks when you are getting married five times throughout the night, you could host an intimate dinner with the people that create a safe, understanding atmosphere and bring you genuine happiness. This year may be more of a virtual intimate experience but these questions still stand. As Marie Kondo has famously asked “Does it bring you happiness?” If not, it may be time to make some changes to your holiday celebrations.
What is a chosen family?
A “chosen family” can consist of anyone that we bring into our lives that fulfill the roles of supporting, teaching, comforting, and offering kinship. Chosen families are especially important within the LGBTQ+ community. This is due to the historical nature of individuals within this community experiencing homophobia and other forms of discrimination within their biological families. A chosen family brings us a sense of comfort and belonging. This to many is the true meaning of what the holidays should represent.
Holiday stress and family disappointments
There are many times in our lives where we may feel a sense of responsibility to do something or be somewhere we don’t want to be. I have found that this is a consistent trend within my clients during this time of year. They will engage with relatives that bring a sense of unease to their space. This is often because they feel that they have to. It can lead to a few months of mental preparation and a few weeks of unpacking the emotions that come with these experiences. The consistency throughout all of this is the stress that they feel.
Stress is defined as, “any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action.” Physically, this may look like tension in your muscles, headaches, chest pain, insomnia, etc. Sometimes this can occur subconsciously without fully understanding where these pains are stemming from. With the holiday season, these physical symptoms may increase.
Picture this: You spend your time decorating your home, getting things together and you are filled with the anticipation of what this season will bring. After all your detail-oriented planning has been put in place, you look around and see your decorated home and get a sense that something is missing. You can’t help but wonder, “what did I miss?” The family conversations somehow shifted from light, carefree topics to heavy emotionally taxing discussions. At the end of it all, we close out the season thinking, “there is always next year.”
This feeling of familial disappointment comes from a few different places. The first being the traditions we find ourselves engaging in. Are these things that fill us with joy? If not, it is time to reassess the traditions that we continue to engage in. The second reason for a sense of disappointment is our expectations. We may have specific expectations for the “perfect holiday” or have expectations of how others should celebrate. We all have that one family member that loves to stir the political conversation pot at the dinner table. Even though this is a known fact, we feel that hopefully this year will be different. When this uncle proves to have made no changes, that can feel like a major let down.
The last piece is making sure we are fully present. At any type of event, we can feel that we are waiting for the next step of the night to occur, especially after all the major time and preparation that we put in. Once the night is over, we are stuck wondering if all the hard work and details were worth it.
Letting go of these old traditions
Take some time to think about the things that you would love to cut out of your holiday schedule. (Yes, it is okay to think about this from an egocentric perspective). Do we really know why this tradition is so important or what the meaning is? Are we keeping this as a routine because we want it or because it’s the norm? If you identify with the latter, it’s time to reassess and create new traditions that reflect your current values and familial situation. Yes, this may lead to uncomfortable conversations with extended family, which can be daunting. At the same time, this allows the people around you an opportunity to understand you in a way they may not have before. This also creates the space to bring back that feeling of happiness within the holidays, perhaps by creating a new tradition with chosen family.
Communicating to family your needs for change
Starting this communication process should begin with giving yourself the permission to engage in this change. Providing yourself a sense of confidence and self-support is the first step. It is then important to communicate these changes to your family as soon as it makes sense to do so. This looks like taking the time to plant the idea that you will not be engaging in certain traditions as soon as it feels right. For example, you may need to call your family and say, “I have been thinking about this a lot and I am coming to the decision that I may not come home this year.” This will give your family members time to digest this information and allow you the time to make sure that this is what you genuinely want.
Within this conversation (and perhaps preceding conversations), it is important to expect an array of emotions. If you know that this decision is something that you will have to explain or justify more than once, make sure you have some clear-cut boundaries. This looks like allowing the space for family members to express their frustrations or concerns without allowing any form of badgering, guilting, or statements that will cause you to feel shame. If this does occur, you have the right to validate their emotions and set a boundary for yourself. For example: “I hear that you feel (blank) and I can empathize with that. However, it seems that we are not effectively communicating.
Let’s take a breath and come back to talk when we are both in a more productive headspace. I want us both to be heard and it seems that we are unable to do that together right now.”
Alternatively, instead of staying in the “negative” of changing the holiday plans, focus on what you plan on doing and what feels right about this for you. This positive reframe can provide a sense of why this is meaningful for you. The last thing that can be helpful is providing an alternative option for some form of connection that is not centered around the specific holiday you celebrate.
Creating New Traditions
What feels good to you? Think about your values, what holds a special meaning to you? What are some new memories you are hoping to create with your chosen family? These are the things that we can focus on as we start to think about new traditions to hold. Part of this next step is also incorporating what did feel good about previous traditions. Perhaps we keep pieces of this in moving towards new routines.
Some examples of new traditions are:
- Have a donation drive
- Make cookies with different cut outs (non holiday related) to decorate
- Have the holiday celebration incorporated with a game night, theme varying every year
- Watch a movie and have your chosen family bring a themed snack or treat
- Forgo gifts and have everyone donate to the charity of choice
- Do a craft together (jigsaw puzzle, pottery, wine and art night, etc).
The holidays can be stressful. There may be certain familial expectations on us that no longer bring us happiness. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of continuing to spend time with family that drains you, it may be time to create new traditions with the people that bring you joy: your chosen family.
What are some traditions you would like to create with your chosen family? Join the conversation in the comments below!
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