Navigating Christmas With Family

For many of us Christmas is a chance to spend time with our nearest and dearest. A time of love and friendship and we look forward to the next one as soon as it’s over. For some people though, spending Christmaswith family  is something to be endured rather than enjoyed at times, fraught with difficulty, strained relationships, unspoken resentments and buttons being pressed. Very often, we feel that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one blazing row erupting.  

Most families are dysfunctional to some extent. There are some that aren’t at all but they remain the exception.  Like the humans that make them up, they are complex and flawed. They can also be wonderful, loving, supportive, honest, open and all manner of other positive things.  Most families, like people, are a combination of these things.

For me, Christmas has always been a difficult time of year. Very often it was when the dysfunction was at its most visible. Long periods of time spent with people you hadn’t (by choice) seen for the rest of the year, against a background of unspoken wounds and childhood trauma of the little t kind, fuelled by vast quantities of booze made for some interesting times!

So for those of you who find Christmas with the family a bit/a lot tricky, here are some ideas that have helped me stay sane (and sober).


  • Accept that you can’t change people.  Once I realised this, and stopped trying to manipulate people and get them to be who I wanted them to be, my familial relationships got so much better. Your mother/father/brother/sister etc might not be exactly the way you want them, but they are the way they are and the more you try and get them to change the worse things will be. Accept them for who they are, with all the good and bad bits and both of you will be happier.

  • Generally speaking (there are of course exceptions), whatever you feel about your parents, they didn’t try to be a bad parent. They may have been occasionally neglectful, angry, alcoholic, absent etc but they were almost certainly doing their best with the tools they had.  Without really looking at oneself and developing a level of self-awareness and self-acceptance, people tend to unintentionally pass on inherited dysfunction to their children.

  • Don’t stay too long! Don’t spend longer than you are comfortable with. Even if you feel like you are being guilted into it! 2 nights is fine.

  • It’s better to be happy than right. I could do with heeding this one more often. Very often discussions can get quite heated with family at Christmas and sometimes it’s best to just let things go. Even if the other person is talking nonsense.

  • Practice compassion. Most people are just doing their best in life.  They are the way they are because of a whole jumble of bio-psycho-social (compli-speak for environmental and genetic) factors. No man is an island. If we can see behind the facade and have some compassion for those we find difficult, amazing things start to happen.

I hope that someone finds this useful. I’m sure it will seem like common sense to many, and still many others will find no use for this at all! Anyway, happy Christmas to all of you. Whoever you spend it with, I wish you a wonderful time.


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