Holiday Stress Pitfalls

You’ve made a list and checked it twice (make that three times) and still your holiday to-do’s are growing. From family gatherings to cookie exchanges and all the wrapping in between, the stress of preparing for the holidays can sometimes take the reason right out of the season. The most difficult part often comes from the interactions we have with the people we love most. Read on for tips on handling a few challenging holiday scenarios from local experts well-versed in managing tricky family dynamics.


Your 8-year-old daughter has really been looking forward to seeing her long distance cousins at your family’s holiday get-together. It doesn’t take long, however, for you to notice that your brother’s children are not being very nice to her. Their teasing and name-calling are upsetting your daughter – and upsetting you too. These behaviors are happening in front of your brother, but he is not addressing it. Should you?

You should absolutely address the behaviors right then and there. What you allow is what will continue. You need to advocate for your child and for healthy play. You are also modeling effective and healthy communication skills. I would bring your brother into the conversation and make it a group talk. Discuss the specific behaviors that are hurtful and how that is not a good way to treat people or allowed in your family. Give examples of names that the children can call each other. Model play that is appropriate and supervise playtime for a while if you feel that is helpful. If the behavior is seen again take a break from playing together. It would be a good time to have all the parents and kids do an activity together for supervision and modeling how the family interacts in a nice way. 

Erin Robinson, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Sam Nabil Counseling Services/Erin Robinson Therapy
Butler Behavioral Health Services
Community Based Therapist/School Based Therapist

This year you are hosting all the festivities around Christmas for your extended family. You’re happy to do this, until your in-laws announce that they are planning to stay with you for a full week. You consider three to four days to be your maximum in terms of being a gracious host. How do you broach this subject with them?

The short answer is: you DO NOT broach it with them. You broach it with your partner! 

Think about this for a moment. Why are you taking the responsibility upon yourself to resolve this situation on your own? This is one of the fundamental stressors that I see in my practice day in and day out with couples. Either partner “assuming responsibility” for something that is not theirs (or at least theirs alone) to “fix” without involving their significant other.

You have a boundary. You do not want guests to stay more than 3 to 4 days. That is a fantastic start. Many clients I see are confused about what their boundaries are, and spend a lot of time trying to please everybody (in case you don’t know this yet, that never works).

Now let’s go to the next step, how to assert your boundary. As I suggested at the beginning, start with your partner. I suggest something that follows the format I teach my clients, which is “I feel so and so, because so and so. For example:

“Hey hun. Your parents said they are staying with us for a full week. I feel (uncomfortable / stressed / upset / annoyed) about this because (it is very exhausting to entertain for that long/ because we have other things to do/ because it will not give us personal space/ because I was not planning on it / because they invited themselves and did not check with us first). I would like for them to stay only 3 or 4 days. How do you feel we should handle this?”

Once you make your feelings known, and explain why you are feeling what you are feeling, and assert what your preferred outcome is, now it is a challenge for both you and your partner to solve together. That reduces stress significantly. From that point, you negotiate with your partner on a viable solution that works for both of you and respects your boundaries.

One last note: Stay flexible. If your partner proposes a solution that addresses your concerns, roll with it. This is about getting your needs met, not about getting your needs met in the way you want them met!! BIG difference. Enjoy the holidays. 

Sam Nabil, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Sam Nabil Counseling Services: Therapy and Life coaching

This holiday is the first one you are spending as a blended family. Your stepdaughter has been obvious in her desire to spend as much time as possible with her mother – and not you. This is upsetting your husband, who had high hopes for your family’s first holiday together to be more festive. What’s the best way for you to handle the situation?

The first step would be to accept that this is a normal reaction for a child dealing with separated parents and new stepparents. As hard as it is for the parents, it’s even harder on the children. They simply don’t have the ability to discern the situation in a rational way, as an adult would. However, that doesn’t mean that adults don’t have hurt feelings, get disappointed or get upset. As a new stepmother, you probably want things to go as fast and as smoothly as possible for this new blended family you’ve entered. It’s probably not realistic that this transition is going to happen as smoothly as either your husband, or you, want it to. The best thing to do is acknowledge your husband’s disappointment that his daughter is not spending as much time with her new family as he wants her too. Remind him that you are aware of how hard this is for him. Also reassure him that you will make a proactive effort to connect and build a relationship with your new stepdaughter, regardless of the holiday season or occasion. Spending some time empathizing with your husband’s feelings while providing reassurance will go a long way. Take a deep breath, relax and know that new families take time to build.

John Harrison, MA, LPCC
John Harrison Counseling, LLC

Although spending time with family can be a highlight of the holiday, it can also have its share of uncomfortable situations. Try to stay focused on the positive moments of the season that make it special for your family and do your best to keep the unpleasant ones from turning you into a Grinch. New Year’s is just around the corner, which might be the perfect time to make a few resolutions about how to handle next year’s holiday!

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