Guest Blogger: Rosanna Breitman, Mediator/ Conflict Resolution Specialist
By mid-December, as the exhausting fall routine grinds to a close, our minds start to shift to the upcoming reward for all of our hard work – the holidays! We imagine festive gatherings, luxurious sleep-ins, cozy days spent at home in PJs curled up in front of a blazing fire, and overall, a genuine feeling of peace and well-being. What could be better? But for busy moms with young families, the reality can often be quite different from the fantasy. As holiday time approaches, the stress of trying to create magical moments for one’s family can often feel overwhelming, especially when relationship conflict is a contributing factor.
Unfortunately, when we start to feel that we bear too much responsibility for making everyone else happy over the holidays, it’s all too common for holiday joy to morph quickly into resentment. This is especially true if we also feel that our partner isn’t lifting a finger to make things any easier – or worse, if they're actively making things harder.
There’s no doubt about it: We get shortchanged, and so do our relationships, when we, and/or others, seem to decide by default that 100% of the responsibility for creating holiday magic falls on us. Deep down, as much as we may enjoy making others happy, we need to feel that others care about our happiness too. And it’s hard to feel that way when our time “off” is spent working to accommodate others’ needs, non-stop – especially when those around us seem to expect it, or take it for granted.
So, how can we manage ourselves and our relationships to ensure that we stay on the “joy” side of the imaginary holiday line, rather than crossing over into resentment territory? Herewith, a few suggestions:
- Be kind to yourself.
Before you even begin to think about what you need from your partner and/or family, give some serious thought to the health of your most important relationship – the one you have with yourself. Be clear on your own needs and prioritize them – otherwise, it’s too easy to spend every minute on what you think you “should” be doing for others. Remember, if you don’t advocate for yourself, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.
- Deconstruct the stress.
If you’re feeling “too much” pressure, try to get a handle on where it’s coming from. To what degree is it self-imposed? To what extent are you internalizing the expectations of others? Understanding the source of the stress is the key to managing it.
- Have others share the load.
Don’t “hint” or wait for your spouse and kids to offer to help plan and execute the festivities – be direct! Clearly communicate your vision of fairness. If you could use some help decorating, shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, cleaning, packing, shovelling, entertaining, etc…ask! Even little kids can help out, and once they get into the spirit, they’ll often enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with helping.
- Be active, not passive, in setting the schedule.
You and your partner may have different ideas of how you want to spend the holiday. Maybe you’re a social butterfly who wants to book up every evening, and they’re more of a homebody. Or perhaps they want to spend a weekend with college friends…the ones you can’t stand. The key here is compromise. You can each accommodate the other to some degree and/or agree that you don’t have to do everything together as a family – whatever works for you. The important thing here is that it should not just be you doing all of the accommodating. Speak up tactfully for what you want, or you may end up drinking from a keg and listening to reminiscences about the good old days in the frat or sorority house.
- Negotiate difficult situations in advance.
Holiday gatherings with extended family can be stressful. If you can’t get out of spending time with difficult relatives, discuss specific problematic people with your partner or a trusted family member in advance, decide on a stress-management strategy, a time limit for your appearance at the gathering, and an exit plan in advance. And stick to it!
- Plan a reward.
To help get you through a situation that you anticipate will be tough – for example, if you must spend a weekend with in-laws you can’t stand – schedule a stress-releasing night out with friends or a relaxing massage (or both!) the next day.
- If all else fails…avoid!
If ditching the occasional office holiday party or festive family dinner reduces stress and allows you to carve out an extra few hours of holiday peace and/or avoid someone you truly can’t deal with, who are you really harming, as long as you’ve given polite notice of the fact that you’re “feeling under the weather”?
- Lose the guilt.
If, in the end, the holidays aren’t perfect, so what? As long as you’ve put forth a reasonable effort, good enough is good enough. Accept that simple fact, and you’ll be much better off.
Bottom line: Making others happy and being kind to yourself are not mutually exclusive. Remember, managing your relationships over the holidays starts and ends with the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself. Take care of that, and the rest will follow. Happy holidays!
Rosanna Breitman is a well-known Toronto mediator with over 20 years’ experience helping clients resolve their disputes in a fair, respectful, and child-oriented manner. In addition to her divorce mediation practice, she has also had extensive experience mediating workplace, school-based, and other interpersonal disputes, coaching individuals and groups on negotiation and conflict management skills, and speaking and presenting at teachers’ professional development workshops, moms’ groups, and community social service organizations.
Rosanna will be the Bits + Bites speaker at MumNet's Annual General Meeting on the topic of “How to advocate for your child.” Join us for this event on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at Louis Cifer Brew Works, 471 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON M4K 1P1, at 7:00 pm. Members are FREE to attend. Non-members are $20. Get your ticket today!