'Getting Along' During the Holidays
22 December 1997
he bad news: Blended families, divorced families, and going home again are primary causes of stress during the busy holiday season, says Cathleen Gray, professor of social work at The Catholic University of America.
The good news: there are ways to avoid the headaches, stress and disappointment.
"There are more than just two choices in a situation," says Gray, who also counsels families in a private practice. "It's not just 'yes, we're going home to visit the folks, or no, we're not.' We can go in different ways, without offending mom and dad, and we don't usually think about that."
Gray suggests thinking carefully about visiting the homestead for a visit and determining which parts can be done easily and which need to be altered. "Think your way through it and develop strategies for survival," she says. "Don't get more and more depressed on your trip there. Be positive."
A typical family setting often includes "a group of autonomous adults, their spouses and children, all staying in the same small house that they lived in as children, in the rooms they grew up in," Gray says. "It is foolish not to expect the adults to return to their early roles. This is unreal because it doesn't accommodate for change or for adulthood."
One solution is for the adult children to stay at a nearby hotel. "This can take care of some of the spatial tension that arises," Gray explains. "You take a lot of people in cold weather, confined in a small house, and there are going to be problems."
Divorced families with children often face a tug-of-war around who gets the children and when.
"Young children are subjected often to two Christmases in one day, which is just too much," she says. "One parent may refuse to let the children to be with the other parent. These parents need to gauge what the children need, not what the parents need."
Gray says that it is important for adult children who have their own families to think about how much they can do during the holidays and retain their own family identity. "A wife may not want to disappoint her mother and therefore feels she can't say 'Mom, we're not coming home.' But sometimes that is necessary, despite the difficulty."
Most of all, it is important to retain a sense of humor.
"Look at the visit through the eyes of a visitor, as though you are visiting a foreign culture," she says.
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Revised: 22 December 1997
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