Family drama? Here’s how to enjoy the holidays anyway

By Kate Kovats

Here are two universal truths.

First, the holiday season is filled with joy because we get to spend more time with family.

Second, the holiday season is filled with angst because we get to spend more time with family.

Both can be true. But you know how you can enjoy the holidays no matter what – no matter the spouse, parents, in-laws or extended family, no matter the drama, no matter what? All you have to do is expect reality. Not perfection. Not changes of heart or changes of personality. Expect reality. That’s it.

Stop expecting picture perfect, Instagram worthy holidays. Expect reality instead. It’s the holiday version of managing your expectations. Having some solutions at the ready will also help.

I’ll offer three reality checks here.

Expectation No. 1: You expect your family to get along and not bring up controversial subjects, nit-pick the menu, the décor, or your choices in life, or dredge up old arguments. After all, due to nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might not have seen one other as often as you normally would.

Reality: By this point in your life, you are who you are, and your family members are who they are. Add on top of that, the fact that we aren’t as used to being around people and that some of us might be at our breaking point, and what you have is a recipe for a less-than-perfect but very real family gathering.

Solution: Maybe you set some boundaries by saying, “Can we agree to disagree on this topic and move on so we can enjoy the holidays?” Another option: If you are hosting, plan activities outside your house, where you can more easily step away when you’re about to lose your cool.

Expectation No. 2: You’ve been dropping hints at the gift you’d like to get from your spouse, partner, significant other. While they haven’t been great gift givers in the past, you are sure this year they will step up.

Reality: Some people are lousy gift givers. They don’t listen or pay attention enough. They’re cheap. They procrastinate and then what they want to get isn’t available – and even the much-publicized pipeline issues this year aren’t likely to spur these last-minute shoppers into action.

Solution: Treat yourself. If there’s something you really want and you can afford it, get it. Or maybe you give yourself something to look forward to for after the holidays – tickets to an upcoming show, a spa day, a vacation. I know someone who this time last year realized how much fresh flowers made it easier to get through this pandemic life. She subscribed to a monthly flower delivery service, and she loves it.

Expectation No. 3: You expect this holiday season to confirm whether you stay married or get divorced. If it’s perfect, then marriage it is. If it’s messy and imperfect, you’re calling a divorce lawyer.

Reality: Many people do wait to “get through” the holidays before splitting up, and that’s why January is often called Divorce Month. But here’s the thing – the reality – you can get divorced or decide to stay married any time, any month. You can take it day by day. In fact, some people who have been married forever say that it is a daily decision. Likewise, people break up all year long, too.

Solution: Don’t put so much pressure on this holiday season or any holiday season. Just be in the moment and enjoy as much of it as possible. If you have kids, remember this is the last season they will be the ages they are right now. Be kind to yourself. Relish the imperfect. Know that there is value in having a plan, but you don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Maybe the plan is this: Figure it out after the holidays…whatever they might bring.

This holiday season expect reality, not perfection. Easier said than done. That’s why I wrote this article – and kept it short and sweet for you to refer to during this holiday season and the next and the next. Forever and ever. Happy holidays – for real!