Should I Get Together With Family for the Holidays?

I’m not sure there has been a rougher holiday season than the one we are in right now.  Between people losing their jobs, the political tension, and the pandemic rising to new levels, it’s making it so difficult to figure out what to do for the holidays.

Do we continue with years, or even decades-long, time-honored traditions of large family get-togethers for Christmas and Hanukkah and throw pandemic caution out the window because it will help so many of us mentally to get together with family finally?

Or should we skip this year and not see family, because science tells us that large gatherings can lead to super spreader events?

If we do get together, how can we circumvent talking about politics with the relative who tosses back a few then loudly express their opinion when all you want is some fun family time?

Do we really have to choose between safety and sanity?

Before making plans, experts say we should ask ourselves some critical questions.

Should I hang out with relatives?

“We should consider whether the benefit of seeing family this year outweighs the emotional toll you may encounter trying to navigate travel restrictions and rules, financial burdens, or other implications,” said Nadine Macaluso, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

Macaluso points out that connection is a vital part of being human; however, with the next few months predicted to be the worst yet for the pandemic, we urge you to think seriously and carefully about the choices you make this holiday season. As of writing, the CDC recommends celebrating holidays in person with only the people in your household.

What do my relatives think?

If you decide that getting together feels positive and safe for you, it’s time to feel out your family members and start making plans.

Dr. Brian Wind, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist, said, “It’s important to start planning early. This enables you to assess your options and discuss them with your family members, and to plan logistics if needed.”

Read all guidelines and research the trends of the cases in the destination that you plan to visit and in your location. You may need to take extra precautions, like testing and quarantining before traveling, or sticking to outdoor, socially-distanced holiday visits. You’ll also have to consider if you have any family members at risk and the risk of transportation mode that you’re taking to get to the destination, Wind advised.

What if relatives have different levels of safety?

This may be a massive task if everyone is not on the same page, of juggling everyone’s comfort level and needs. That could take a lot of management.

Wind said, “Different family members may be taking different levels of precautions and you need to consider how seriously they are taking it and whether you’re comfortable with it. You may want to set some boundaries with them if you’re not comfortable with certain things.” As a rule of thumb, adhere to the guidelines of the family member with the strictest levels of precaution.

How to deal when emotions are running high

While it would be wonderful to think that everyone has a happy family and getting together is all laughs and fun traditions, some family gatherings are a bit tense.

“Often, when in the company of our immediate family, we become reactive, our old wounds resurface, and we regress emotionally,” Macaluso said. “This holiday season may prove extra challenging given the current extreme divisions in our country and the intense emotions being elicited by the pandemic.”

Macaluso advises that if you find yourself in a hot button situation, don’t stonewall and stomp away from the table. Instead, “name it to tame it.” In other words, say how you feel. For example: “I am feeling overwhelmed by this conversation, so I am choosing to step away. From now on, let’s talk about fewer hot-topics.”

Opting to stay home

If after much deliberation you chose not to spend the holidays with family, Wind said, “you may feel sad, disappointed and guilty, and other family members may also make you feel worse. It’s important to manage these emotions in a healthy way. Make alternative plans that make you happy if you’re not going. Relaxing activities like meditation or activities you enjoy can also relieve the stress you are feeling.”

Besides all the tips above, try to keep the big picture in mind when trying to decide what to do.  This is one holiday season, and things should be back to normal next year.

The year 2020 contained more anxiety, uncertainty, and turmoil than any one person should have to handle at once, so do what brings you the most peace and joy, because that’s what the holiday season is all about, Macaluso said.

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About Ronni Robinson

Ronni is a member of the Sandwich Generation; she's the tired lunch meat layered between two teenage children and aging parents. She has been an endurance athlete for over 20 years, is 3-time Ironman finisher, and is a certified spin instructor. She is in shock that she has just become an empty nester. Her first book, Out of the Pantry: A Disordered Eating Journey, can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can find more of her professional writing on her website (https://www.ronnirobinson.com/) and her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/RonniRobinsonwrites/).