In Part 1 of this Twelve Days of Christmas blog I discussed how you might avoid having to visit family when you don’t really want to. This part is devoted to how you might cope with visiting when you don’t really want to, but couldn’t face telling them so and are going anyway.
Do I stay or do I go?
The first question I have for you is, do you not want to go or do you want to be somewhere else? Those aren’t the same thing although they may look like it at first glance. Not wanting to be in place A is not the same as wanting to be in place B instead.
If you don’t want to go, why not?
I really don’t like them.
Why not? When we dislike someone it’s usually because their values don’t match with ours; we might for example value loyalty very highly and hate that they’re always bad-mouthing their friends and family behind their backs. A mismatch of one value doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t aligned elsewhere. Despite their disloyalty, they may share your values of punctuality or patience. So rather than focusing on what you don’t like, look for things you can like or at least tolerate.
They may be casually racist or have wildly opposing political or religious views to you. Avoid those topics and if they come up, change the subject. Or find a reason to leave the room. You can choose not to allow your buttons to be pressed.
They treat me/my children/my partner badly.
What do you mean by ‘badly’? Are they abusive, disrespectful, cruel? Or do they just treat them differently to the way you treat them?
If they’re harsher or more lenient with your children than you are, that will be frustrating. It’s not the end of the world though. If your children are old enough (and they don’t have to be that old to be old enough – small children are sharper than many adults give them credit for) you can explain that while they’re at Granny’s they may be allowed, or required, to do things differently from at home. That doesn’t change the rules at home. You would appreciate it if they tried really hard to conform with Granny’s rules because it’s her house, or if appropriate, to maintain the rules of your house even though they’re at Granny’s. You can also suggest to Granny that you’re raising your children differently from how she raised hers, and don’t need her help thank you. Kindly and understandingly, of course. The key to kind and understanding explanations is to do it when you’re not angry or upset, i.e the first time it comes up, not after you’ve bitten your tongue 20 times.
If they actually are cruel, abusive or disrespectful to you or your partner, then I respectfully suggest they are not people you need in your lives. If you or your partner struggle to accept that, it may be healthy for you to work through it with someone.
If your partner adores their parents and they are frosty at best to you, I advise you to talk about this with your partner before you visit. You may want to challenge their behaviour - again, kindly and understandingly - and if you do so without warning your partner they are likely to get upset because 'you're causing an argument' or 'embarrassing me'. What this means, by the way, is that they're feeling uncomfortable on behalf of their parent. They probably think the way you're treated is a joke or 'just their way - they love you really'. There may be some truth in this; after all they've known their parents longer than you have. But 'their way' or 'joking' is no excuse for treating you - a member of their family - with disrespect. Assertively challenging them, with non-accusatory statements talking about how you feel rather than what they did, may cause an argument; nobody likes being criticised. But in the long term one of two things will happen. Either they'll start to treat you better, or they'll ostracize you and you'll never have to visit them again. Win-win.
It’s very likely that relations, particularly older ones, will do and enjoy different things to you. Boredom is a state of mind, however. Decide that you’re going to enjoy yourself for the duration of the visit and look for things to interest you rather than reinforce your boredom.
You can actually manage all of these things, and having strategies prepared and ready when you arrive is more effective than trying to deal with it when you get there, particularly if you’re already the wrong side of several mince pies and glasses of wine. This is one of those situations where the annoying advice ‘just think positive and you’ll enjoy it’ actually has some truth. Sorry.
I want to be somewhere else.
Again, this is a ‘which’ question. Do you want to stay at home, or visit a different place? Maybe you’re going to your partner’s family and you’d rather go to yours. In-laws, or as a friend of mine calls them, 'out-laws' are not often your favourite people. You married their offspring, not them. Or perhaps you’re a home lover who just wants to pull up the drawbridge and hibernate.
That matters because the reason you don’t want to be in a place will affect how you react to being there. If you’d rather be with your family, you may feel that your family isn’t valued as much as your partner’s or that they don’t respect your wishes. This could cause resentment. If you’d rather be at home, you may feel that your value as a parent, partner and/or homemaker is being questioned because home isn’t ‘good enough’ to spend Christmas in and that could prompt guilt. It’s unlikely these feelings will be at the surface of your mind and it may take quite a lot of soul-searching to find out what they are.
What’s really going on here?
To find out the real reasons why you don’t want to visit relations this Christmas, take a large sheet of paper and write at the top ‘I don’t want to go to X this Christmas because’. Underneath, write the first reason that comes into your head. Then write ‘because’ again, and write the next thing that comes into your head. Keep going until you either can’t think of anything else, or you’ve reached the real reason. You’ll know because when you write ‘because’ under that real reason, the answer will be ‘just because’. If you find yourself saying ‘I don’t know’, then put the paper away and come back to it another day, as often as you need to.
For example, ‘I don’t want to go to my in-laws this Christmas because they’re so judgemental’. ‘Because’ can be either why that means you don’t want to visit them, or why you think they’re judgemental. It’s worth pursuing both angles. The former will explain why you have a problem with judgemental people, but the latter will help you understand why they behave in a way that you perceive as judgemental. Nobody is judgemental through and through 100% of the time. They may be judgemental of a particular group of people or a particular behaviour, but tolerant of everyone else. If you can recognise this it may make it easier for you to cope with their judgementalism when it happens. Equally they may not be judgemental at all, but your past conditioning and beliefs mean that you perceive their behaviour in that way; particularly if the subject of their apparent judgement is you.
Incidentally this exercise is useful for many questions of why you don't like something or someone, from why you don't want to go to Benidorm on holiday to why you hate public speaking.
Be aware that this may throw up some painful and/or difficult issues for you. If that happens, it may help to work through them with a good friend, or a professional like me (just saying).
Having done this work you should find it easier to cope with the reason you don't want to visit; it's possible that your reluctance may even reduce or disappear altogether. You may still need to take a deep breath a few times during your visit. I was once advised that in moments of stress and vexation I should repeat the phrase 'I'm reacting this way because of my conditioning and experiences'. I often found myself adding 'or whatever crap it is I'm supposed to say at times like this'. Irritating as it initially appeared however, I did find it helpful and therefore I commend it to you.
You can't change your family. This Christmas they may be as annoying, judgemental, opinionated or boring as ever, if not more so. What you can change is your reaction to that. Will what they say matter in 10 days or 10 months time? Will you even remember? If not, then it probably isn't worth making yourself unhappy over.
So if you do have to spend all or part of Christmas in the company of those you would not choose to spend time with, make up your mind to let what they say or do go instead of fuelling the fires of annoyance and resentment. Hopefully you will be able to feel more tranquil, #stayhealthy and pass the time if not in enjoyment, at least not in distress.
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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.