For many of us, going home for the holidays often means returning to less-than-perfect family situations: too many fathers are missing from the table, and old family tensions and pain always seem to boil over onto the surface before the food is even on the plates.
On the recent long drive home from the first holiday visit with my dysfunctional family in years, I thought about balancing protecting myself and my kids while allowing us to have quality time with their relatives.
Limiting contact with my family was a difficult decision for me, something I am still coming to terms with. I know there are many just like me who struggle to maintain their relationships with their family. Continuing family drama can often make you feel like you are being sucked back into a black hole that you’ve worked so hard to crawl out of.
So, what can we do to help make our holidays a success? Here are a few things I have learned over the years that have helped me through the holidays:
1. Do what’s best for the family you are building. If you choose not to go home because things in your family are just too unhealthy, don’t feel guilty. Sometimes, what’s happening in your family can threaten the stability of the family you are creating with your spouse (or simply your own if you’re single). In those cases, staying home and waiting for a later time when you may be able to have a successful visit is best.
2. Be sure your family knows and agrees to your “house” rules, if you decide to open your home to them. In our home, no drinking, no drugs, and as little family drama (if possible), even if this means limiting phone calls from distant family members who might disrupt our time with the family who is there.
3. Be sure you have a way to leave if you need to if you do choose to go home. Consider staying with friends or in a hotel, if possible. This allows you more control over how long you stay, and what your children might be exposed to in the middle of the night. Be sure you have a car or plan a ride home with someone you trust to get you.
4. Take your spouse with you (or a friend if you’re not married) when you visit. Having another trusted adult along who “has your back” and knows your anxieties about the visit can help a lot.
Remember that your imperfect family, with all their flaws, is still your family and that generational ties matter. Even if you can’t have a relationship with that family member right now, consider leaving the door the open for the future, if you can, for when and if that person gets healthy. Spending even limited time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins, if possible, is important for your children and for you, so make it happen when you can.