The holiday season is officially upon us! So cheers, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Festivus, and Happy New Year, whatever you’ll be celebrating.
This last month of the year brings a barrage of holiday office parties, a flurry of end-of-year gift-buying, and all sorts of family traditions. If you’re feeling pulled in a million different directions, you’re not alone. It’s easy to get so caught up in pleasing others, so swept along in meeting their expectations, that you wind up losing yourself amid the tinsel and tissue paper. I’m here to give you permission to stand up for your sanity this holiday season by setting healthy boundaries, giving up on the quest for perfection, and choosing which holiday traditions to hold on to (and which to let go of) in spite of family pressure. And I’ve brought along a few wise women’s words to help us.
First of all, know you’re not alone in this struggle. No matter how old you are, walking back into your family of origin can take you right back in time, where the same old patterns tend to play out every year. No matter what you’ve achieved at work this year or how much more confident you are, going home for the holidays can cause you to seek approval and acceptance, feel responsible for pleasing others, and worry about the judgment that’s sure to come if you stand up for what you need.
There’s no denying that transitioning from the way teenage you (or eight-year-old you) functioned in the family to the way adult you wants to function can cause some anxiety. That’s completely normal. It’s conflict that’s a natural part of life, work, and leadership – and it actually enhances your perspective on what it means to live purposefully within a family or an organization. And the hard work of setting healthy boundaries is worth the reward of knowing you’re maintaining your own personal integrity no matter what external expectations your family may try to put on you.
As always, be authentic. Strange as it seems, sometimes the easiest way to navigate the wild ride of the holidays is by simultaneously recognizing what you’re able to control (yourself, your own choices) and giving up control where you’ve never really had it (what your parents approve of, if your brother will be on time). A wise woman I admire, researcher and author Brene’ Brown, says this about being authentic in moments of difficulty that challenge our sanity:
Get Deliberate: Whenever I’m faced with a vulnerable situation, I get deliberate with my intentions by repeating this to myself: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” I think there’s something deeply spiritual about standing your ground. Saying this little mantra helps me remember not to get small so other people are comfortable and not to throw up armor as a way to protect myself.”
Lastly, I recommend letting go of any expectations. Difficult as it can be when every magazine and Instagram post shows twinkly moments for all, let go of any expectations (your own, your mother-in-law’s, your neighbor’s) about how perfect it’s all going to be. Give yourself permission to bring your authentic, imperfect, evolving, contradictory, unique self home for the holidays just the way you are. One of my clients shared this blog post by Shauna Niequist with me, and it’s a good reminder that it’s your presence – not your catering achievement or your impeccable home – that your family and friends really want as 2015 comes to a close.
You can show up with your perfectly wrapped grab bag gift & your perfectly baked cookies…and your perfectly resentful and frazzled self, ready to snap at the first family member you see.
Or you can choose to rest your body & nourish your spirit, knowing that bringing a grounded, present self to each holiday gathering is more important than the gifts you bring.
So this is my advice to you this week: add nothing to the to-do list. Abandon well-intentioned but time-consuming projects. And make rest & space priorities, so that what you offer to your loved ones is more than a brittle mask over a wound-up and depleted soul.
Call to action!
By now I know you might be thinking – sure, Barbara, fine; it’s easy for these well-known women to say such lofty things! They’re older, wiser, more famous, more . . . adult. So here’s my holiday gift to you: email me or leave a comment here with a holiday dilemma of your own. Dreading a conversation with your father-in-law? Wondering how to break a tradition without breaking your nana’s heart? Wishing you could figure out what to say when your family tries to see you as the “baby” even though you’re 30? Send me your tricky situations, and I’ll choose one to work through in an upcoming blog post so you can see how it’s possible to apply this wisdom step by step, just in time for that eggnog.