20 tips to Cope with Family at Christmas

Family togetherness, delicious food, warm hugs, relaxation, contentment being with our nearest and dearest. At least, that’s the Christmas dream, that’s the stuff we see in movies and deep down, we crave that familial connection.

For some, though, it’s not the wonderful dream. Attending the Christmas family function can feel like it’s a once a year duty that must be endured. For others, they feel guilt-tripped into attending.

Gathering with family can mean not feeling heard, encounters with unpleasant or toxic relatives, insults, criticisms, the same old conflicts repeated every year creating anger and resentment. There is the feeling of not being understood by parents or siblings at a deep level where they ‘get you’, of being Unloved. Disrespected. Hurt.


Mother-Daughter Relationship – Tips to Cope at Christmas

As a Mother-Daughter Coach, I encounter many women who experience anxiety, guilt, passivity and anger in relationship with their mother. Christmas and Mother’s Day are two specific days of the year when these feelings acutely surface. High expectations of the meaning of a daughter’s love towards her mother, and a mother’s love towards her daughter, can be shattered.

The relationship between mothers and adult daughters can be a difficult road to navigate. Many daughters want to please their mum, not wanting to upset her. Many women feel a loss of identity, a lost sense of self, within their mother-daughter relationship, and in relationships with her children and her partner.

A woman can struggle with her own value as a daughter and as a mother. She can come to believe she is undeserving. Daughters hope to get some crumbs of love and attention from mum, just like their mum tried to get crumbs of comfort and connection from their mum. The stream of relationship-craving drifts back to the previous generation, then back to the generation before.


How To Manage Christmas Day With The Relatives

Here’s a few tips that may help you cope with the family on Christmas Day:

  • Prior to seeing the rellies, press the Pause button. Just 10 minutes to pause, breathe, recalibrate. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • Sit in a chair, feel your bare feet on the floor. Wiggle your toes, stamp your feet. Stand and march on the spot. What does this feel like? Clench your fists then release. Do this several times to release tension.
  • Be aware of your body’s response when arriving at the destination. Breathe.  During family time, be aware of your body’s response when a comment is made. Are you feeling irritated or frustrated? This will be a signal for you to breathe. Either change the conversation or walk away.
  • Think of a Happy Place. It could be a holiday destination you’ve been to. A beach with gentle rolling waves. The stillness of an underground cavern. The solitude of a mountaintop. Or it could be sharing precious time with special people in your life.
  • Have a happy photo or quote with you to look at, to de-stress and distract from the difficulty of the day.
  • Be mindful that we cannot control others, we can only control ourselves. If a family member engages you in a hot topic, and you know from previous years where this topic will go, change the subject. If they still insist on the conversation, it will mean walking away. Find someone else to connect with.
  • Have time-out by going for a walk, or time-in by being in another room or the bathroom to help de-stress.
  • Avoid excessive drinking. See points above for ideas.
  • If it’s difficult to leave the room, have a fidgety toy such as a small squishy ball, in your pocket or in the palm of your hand to squish to help re-focus.
  • If feeling over-committed, it’s okay to say No.
  • I often recommend preparing a script if you know there is a hot topic that regularly surfaces at family functions. Write it down, memorise it. You may not remember it word for word, but you will have a resource to use with the difficult family member. If you know that your mother or aunt, for instance, criticises your hair every year and you’re anticipating the critique of your post-lockdown hairdo, simply say “Let’s not get into that now.” If it continues, then walk away.
  • Count 100 backwards by 3’s.
  • Silence speaks volumes. Silence tells the other person that you will not engage in a tricky conversation.
  • It may mean you can’t stay long at their place for Christmas. Organise ahead of time to catch up with friends later that day, so you have another engagement to attend to. Or set your phone to ring you at a specific time so you can leave.
  • Helping in the kitchen may help to reduce interactions with a specific person.
  • Decide beforehand how long you will spend at the family gathering. It may be two hours, it may be one-and-a half hours. Reflect back on the previous year’s get-together which will be a good indication how long you can spend with the family this year.
  • There’s a lot of pressure to get ‘things right’ for this one day of the year. We put ourselves under pressure and expectations from others. Brene Brown wrote about the year she didn’t send Christmas cards due to juggling family life and feeling exhausted, “We live in a world where life can easily become pageantry, and the best performers make it look balletic and effortless. Of course, there’s no such thing as an effortless holiday show. If you sneak a peek behind most people’s red velvet curtains at holiday time, you’ll often see houses brimming with anxiety, maxed-out credit cards, crying children, and marriages that make the cold war look warm and fuzzy.”
  • The host can spend weeks preparing their home for the relatives to visit on Christmas Day. Getting the spare room ready for overnight guests, cleaning the house, buying food, cooking before Christmas Day, as well as on the day. Often, hosts have an expectation as to how the day will pan out. By the time Christmas Day arrives, they’re stressed from doing lots of things, and planning this one day of the year. Try to be understanding, ignore their remarks.
  • Some women realise they will not have a close relationship with their mother and will create distance for their own mental health. If this is you, yet you feel you ‘should’ do something for your mum at Christmas, then send her a card. Then celebrate with the people who you cherish in your life – partner, children, neighbours, friends. If you have a fur baby, or three, celebrate with them too.
  • If it’s difficult to be with family at Christmas-time, consider booking a short stay.

Remember – Be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself as a friend would be to you, and as you would to your friend. Draw up boundaries around yourself at this ‘silly season’ to protect, nurture and care for yourself.


Overwhelmed?  Talk with a friend. Talk with me.


Janice WIlliams Counselling


Janice Williams is the only Certified Mother-Daughter Relationship Specialist in Australia and the South Pacific region.

Sessions are available across Australia and worldwide.

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