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3 Keys To Help Negotiate Family Dynamics At Christmastime

Deb Johnstone December 2022

Midlife Musings: Debra Johnstone

As Christmas approaches this year, I’m smiling ear to ear.

“Family dynamics can be so tricky around Christmastime.”

Planning my Christmas day is a pleasure because I’ll be spending it with my beautiful family. My sons, their partners, and kids are all coming over to our place this year.

But it isn’t like this every year. We do a year on year off thing with my son’s in laws. My year off, we gather on Boxing Day instead. Which is still lovely, but it doesn’t have quite the same feel as Christmas Day.

Thinking back to the first year this practice was announced it must have been so hard for my poor son. I remember crying on the phone and trying to understand why all families couldn’t celebrate together. I was raised to see Christmas as inclusive and it’s the way I raised my boys too. So to suddenly be excluded at such a special time was a bit of a shock.The thing is I know that I’m not the only mother who feels this way. As beautiful as this special day is, it can be a really trying time for many us.

Family Dynamics Can Be So Tricky Around Christmastime:

Raising my boys as a single mother, I had spent every second Christmas without them. Their dad would take them to Sydney to spend time with their grandmother and his family. Although I agreed to it for my kids’ sake, the first couple of times I cried a lot. But then over time I got used to it. I was fortunate to have lovely friends who would invite me to spend the day with them too.

Back then I would comfort myself with the fact that they would eventually grow up and choose to stay here instead. This was indeed the case for a couple of years. Their dad would come over Christmas morning and we would celebrate together. But then our boys found partners and it began to change.

“Through acceptance we are able to drop the resistance.”

All families are different, aren’t they? 

Some families have huge gatherings including everyone they can think of. Others prefer to have small intimate gatherings of their own exclusive family. Couples often prefer to spend the day with just the two of them.  And some families have such differing personalities, that you might rather spend the day alone.

We’re all raised with different programming. If we don’t’ make ourselves aware of this, those family dynamics can become a little destructive. Especially at this significant time of year.

Drop The Resistance:

1. Accepting that we are all different is essential to fully enjoying Christmas.

Holy Moly this was a big one. Through acceptance we are able to drop the resistance.  This helps us feel a lot more comfortable with the situation. For me personally it allowed me to enjoy Christmas no matter which day we celebrate. 

This also enables you to enjoy the day even if you end up sitting next to that irritating relative at the lunch table. Not that I have one of those, but I know many people do.

2. Staying mindful of others feelings makes it more comfortable for everyone.

This was another big one for me. My crying over the phone to my son when he announced the changes caused him to feel torn. You see he wanted to spend the day with us, but was mindful of his partner’s family too. Christmas for them was exclusively their family. That’s their programming and it’s totally fine too. 

“When we become mindful of others we see things through a different lens.”

Situations At Christmastime:

Becoming more mindful through compassion of how this impacted my son helped me change my behaviour. When we become mindful of others we see things through a different lens. This has a positive influence on our behaviour and can be helpful in all situations at Christmastime – especially with our family dynamics.

3. Being grateful for what we have helps us feel at peace at Christmas.

Remember that eventually all things come to an end. One day there will be an empty seat or two at the table. Over time these seats will be filled with new family members. If you’re single and alone this Christmas, that is also likely to change too. Nothing ever stays the same. Even that irritating family member may be gone one day and you might even miss them. Truth.

Be Grateful:

Appreciating our time either together or alone no matter which day it is or who sits at the table brings peace. Be grateful for the present moment, because it will never come again.

The antics of family dynamics can be fun when we decide not to be triggered and instead observe. All family members and situations offer us a gift. And when we stay aware through acceptance, compassion, and gratitude we can see and enjoy it.

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Debra Johnstone

About the Author:

Deb Johnstone is a Transformational Mindset Coach and a Midlife Transition Mentor. Experiencing midlife transition herself, she wanted work with more meaning and started her coaching practice in 2012. After the death of her father in 2019 and processing her grief, Deb experienced a deep loss of self where her identity felt challenged. It was through this that she felt the calling to work with women in this phase of life. It is now her mission to support women to transition midlife and beyond feeling confident, empowered and free to be your true self and live the life you want and deserve. You can connect with Deb on Facebook through The Empowered MidLife Woman where she posts insights daily, or connect with her through her website.