Dealing With the Stress of the Holidays

 Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at [email protected].

Dear Dr. David,

It’s the holiday season again and I’m getting anxious about getting together with my family. I know lots of people have problems with family this time of year, but it’s my grandmother who makes me the most crazy. 

While I love my grandmother, she rules our family. It’s like she’s the Queen and everyone tiptoes around her. She dictates how we will celebrate every holiday, and then scolds us when things don’t go my way. She’ll punish anyone who doesn’t go along with her. Sometimes she is very sweet, and I love her a lot. But, other times she seems mean-spirited. What’s the deal?

I’m tired of this, but I also know that we are supposed to respect our elders. Where is the line between respect and treating someone like they are the ruler of their little kingdom? I have some expectations for how I want the holidays to be. Aren’t I entitled to some thoughts and feelings about this too? ~ Losing Respect

Dear Respect,

It is certainly true that we are to respect our elders. Leviticus 19: 32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” Romans 12: 10 says “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

But, your situation is not that simple. You describe circumstances where your grandmother seems to have an undue amount of power or influence over your family. Nowhere do the Scriptures say that you must conform in every way to what someone else expects of you. To do this is to feed into your grandmother’s exaggerated sense of herself. In fact, is it possible that your entire family has catered to her wishes and desires too long?

It seems to me that your responsibility is to treat your grandmother with respect, showing her consideration and positive regard. However, that does not mean that you defer to her in every way, especially when her actions are anything but respectful.

As I’ve suggested, there is also a larger problem—that being your family having catered to your grandmother’s power far too long. While I don’t suggest making a radical shift, or in any way showing her unkindness, I do think it is completely responsible to set healthy boundaries with her and take away her power to blackmail or act vindictively toward you. These kinds of actions, were they to occur, should be confronted in a loving and caring way.

As we approach the holidays, a time when families come together under stressful circumstances, I think it is important to consider the following possibilities:

Consider how you want to relate to one another. It will be tempting to relate the ways you’ve always related, but this may no longer be working for you. How might you relate differently, perhaps even more effectively?

Notice how you get “hooked” by family members. Make a note of how it happens and what your typical response is—then vow to act differently. 

Invite others to treat you differently. Be clear with family and friends how you want to be treated, and ask the same from them. Open the door for new kinds of dialogue. 

Who do you want to be with this holiday season? Make healthy choices out of desire, not simply tradition. Don’t make decisions about of coercion or false guilt. It’s okay to carve out your own identity.

Consider that others may resist your changes, but can learn to accept them as well. Everyone is capable of changing.

Create your own traditions, allowing them to change as you change. Ask yourself if you are observing the holidays the way you want to observe them.

Let’s agree not to dread this holiday season. Let’s not let others “hook” us into acting in ways we don’t want to act, doing things we don’t want to do, and having feelings we’d prefer not to have. While we can’t have a perfect world, and must keep our expectations in perspective, we don’t have to be victims either. Share with me how you’re going to make this a great holiday season. I’d like to hear from you.

David Hawkins, Ph.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/YakobchukOlena



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