Around this time of year, we often hear people tell stories like this one: “For the better part of 365 days, I behave as a competent, self-confident adult, carrying out tasks and handling a myriad of responsibilities. But put me back in my mother’s house at the holidays with my siblings and I am instantly thrust back into the role of the baby of the family, with everyone joking and smirking about how I always get away with doing the least. And I let them do that to me–I fall back into that role so easily, and find myself feeling annoyed, irritated, counting the moments until it is over.” Ah, the holidays. We anticipate, decorate, wrap, and deliver. We dream, expect, prepare, and sometimes dread.
Family roles and expectations often determine the degree to which we are able to fully enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year.” Often it is difficult to escape the role that seems thrust upon us, and that we are no longer willing to play: the peacekeeper, the conversationalist, the organizer, the family clown. How do we begin to change what seems to be so entrenched in our families?
- Be aware of not only the role you seem stuck in, but also the roles other family members occupy. How do you contribute to maintaining the status quo?
- Be pro-active in letting your family experience other sides of you, besides the role you typically play.
- Recognize and affirm characteristics of your family members that do not conform to their expected roles.
- Set boundaries when appropriate. Let family members know that certain behaviors are hurtful and will no longer be tolerated.
It is vitally important to keep in mind that we teach others how to treat us. Therefore, if we were used to a certain type of interaction growing up, the only way to change the interaction now is to model and even ask for a different type of relating. Old habits are difficult to break, but in order to create more enjoyable holiday experiences, these may be family traditions worth breaking. Therefore, it may be necessary to let Uncle Eddy know that you would prefer a hug or handshake over the traditional noogie he has waiting for you this Christmas.