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December 17, 2020

How to Handle Holiday Frustrations with Family

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The holidays are intended to be a time of cheer, but the data suggests that they can, in fact, be a time of stress for many. With the additional stress of COVID and distancing restrictions, 2020 presents some unique challenges. Jess joins Global TV’s The Morning Show to discuss the top issues of contention and how to have a more harmonious holiday season.

My husband and I never agree on finances and it’s worse around the holidays. I want to spend and be generous and I see him as a cheapskate and it always leads to fights. Help!

I think you can be generous is more ways than one — you can be generous with your time, your effort, your thoughtfulness, and your money, so can you consider expanding your definition of generosity.

And can you talk to him about why you want to spend more money and what it means to you. Perhaps financial generosity is one way you show love and a way that your loved ones feel it. That’s okay if it’s not a strain on your own finances.

Financial stress is often heightened over the holidays and it’s a case of conflict, so if you can set a budget ASAP, you’ll be on more solid ground. Can you ask him how much he’d like to spend on specific items (e.g. gifts, meals). And when he states an amount (e.g. I’d like to spend $25 on a gift for my nephew), can he perhaps be tasked with choosing the gift? Sometimes the partner who doesn’t do the shopping can be critical of the partner who is tasked with buying gifts, but they haven’t really considered all the energy that goes in to selecting gifts and they may not be aware of what things cost — especially if it has been years since they’ve bought gifts.

How do you deal with family members who don’t respect gifting boundaries? For example, if I’m trying to teach my kids restraint and gratitude by limiting presents, but my sister always shows up with mountains of gifts even when I ask her to restrict them to under $100 each.

That’s a tough one, but I do think you’re within your right to request restraint — especially when you have a specific reason for doing so.

I suggest you call your sister right away. Acknowledge her generosity and express gratitude for it. Also, explain to her why you’re limiting gifts and the lessons you hope your children will learn. Ask her questions to better understand why she spends so much on gifts. Maybe it’s because she wants your kids to know that she loves them. If so, perhaps suggest that she spend time with them to express her love and cultivate the relationship and plan specific days for doing so?

If she really wants to shower them in gifts, perhaps you could ask her to spread them out throughout the year? Or perhaps you could opt to collaborate on buying gifts for them?

Focus on what you want as opposed to criticizing her behaviour. And really listen to understand her perspective. You might find that you’re also open to being more flexible once you understand her motivations.

Also, if she loves buying gifts for kids, there are a ton of charities looking for sponsors this holiday season, so perhaps you could collaborate with her and your kids on picking a gift for someone in greater need.

We’re in the maritimes, so we’re allowed to get together this year. I know we should be appreciative, but I’m already worn out. My husband leaves everything to me. Cooking, cleaning, hosting, planning, shopping. How can I get him to step up?

Make a list of everything that needs to be done and run a draft to select your tasks. Hopefully this well help alleviate some of your burden.

Having said that, if there are things on the list that aren’t important to your husband, but they’re important to you, he’s not forced to embrace them. If you have set certain standards and then you’re disappointed that he’s not meeting them or you’re worn out because of the pressure you’re putting on yourself, it may be up to you to adjust your expectations instead of asking others to meet them.

I do hope you’re able to find a balance and have a harmonious and restful holiday season!

I’m supposed to stay with my family for a week over the holidays, but every year is the same: My brother and I end up in a blowout. It’s a long story going back 20 years, but I don’t want to walk into another war zone in 2020. I’ve had enough.

I think it’s great that you’re planning ahead and while some family counselling might help to work through the deeper issues, you’re not going to be able to work everything out in time for the holidays, so I’d consider how you can reduce the tension.

Can you look for activities you like to do together that allow you to focus on the present rather than holding on to the past? Maybe it’s a board game or a puzzle or baking or building a gingerbread house. What shoulder-to-shoulder activities allow you to co-exist in close proximity without the pressure of face to face conversations for a whole week?

Can you also start your week together with an act of kindness? Is there something you can do for him that might feel good? Perhaps surprising him with a small gift or picking a movie you know he loves?

And can you work on your own coping strategies when you feel yourself getting riled up? Can you recognize what stress feels like in your body (e.g. rapid breathing, tension in your jaw)? And can you plan ahead to cope with a few moments to yourself, a few slow deep breaths, a visualization of something soothing, or a text to a friend who can help to calm you down?

The holidays can also be difficult on account of the fact that we’re away from (some of) our traditional support structures (e.g. friends, neighbours, partners), so using tech to stay in touch and letting them know how they can support you from afar ahead of time can be very helpful.