By Samara Fabrick, LCSW
samaraThe holidays are fast approaching and we all have different reactions to this time of year. Media portrays this season as a happy one filled with smiling relatives giving expensive gifts and wearing beautiful clothes. Some of you can relate to these ebullient folk as something that resembles your own holiday experiences. However, many dread this “cheery” season and know that the last thing that puts a smile on their face is dealing with their family and their spouse’s family.

I thought it would be helpful to put together a survival kit of sorts, to help those of you who struggle with your families during this particularly tense time of year.

The first tip I can suggest is to negotiate with your spouse about what the holiday schedule is going to look like between your family of choice (you and your spouse) and your families of origin. Many people deal with relatives who have laid claim to their favorite holidays and are not willing to compromise.

One of my clients has a mother-in-law who claims ALL the holidays as hers and expects the kids and grandkids to show up to each and every one. A friend of mine alternates Thanksgiving every year between her parents and her husband’s family. There is no single right way to navigate the holiday schedule, but it is important to discuss and make decisions with your spouse before your families weigh in too heavily or just assume that you will be joining them.

My second tip would be to get in touch with your own expectations and those of your spouse. Most of us have had childhood experiences that influence our wants and desires regarding the holidays. For example, if you grew up eating mashed potatoes every Thanksgiving, you may have the expectation that Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them. Your husband’s family may have skipped the mashed potatoes and opted for the candied yams instead. Showing up to your in-laws and not having those mashed potatoes can ruin your holiday and create conflict in your marriage. If there is something really important for you to have as part of your holiday, take it on as your responsibility and make it happen. I’m sure your mother-in-law will love your Aunt Tillie’s parsnip mashed potatoes.

My third tip is to be creative and begin your own family traditions, especially if you are obligated to celebrate holidays somewhere other than your first choice. One of my clients has a Friend’s Thanksgiving every year on the Saturday prior to the traditional Thursday. For her, the Friend’s Thanksgiving is the real one and the holiday with her family is the obligation.

You can also bring a fabulous dish that you create to whatever table you will attend as a way to establish your own tradition. My husband’s grandmother used to bring her fabulous chopped liver to every holiday and we all looked forward to feasting on it before getting to the turkey.

Family can be both a blessing and a curse. Use your communication tools and ingenuity to make your holiday season exactly what you want it to be. Don’t follow the path of least resistance and end up resentful. Happy Holidays!

Samara Fabrick is a licensed psychotherapist in Beverly Hills specializing in life issues.