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Are Your Festivities Feeling Like ‘Stresstivities’?

Do you notice when the Holiday Season roles around your shoulders are up to your ears and you talk through your teeth thinking of how to navigate your family politics? You are not alone. The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year when it comes to family politics. The very thought of managing delicate family relationships, avoiding conflict and celebrating the joy of the season with your loved ones has many speed dialing their travel agent.

The holiday season can be the beginning of a new year or the end of a hurtful one. The good news is: the choice is yours. Setting family holiday celebration boundaries.  Start the negotiations early. In our family, we start the discussion in early November, starting with a basic email defining our ‘wish list’ to all our family members and invited phone calls to follow that.

We ask for things like plenty of flexibility and short term planning or start the discussions about where the family celebration will be held and when. It’s important to share how you would like the gift giving to go. For example, we specify children only and the adults participate in a charitable donation. Our family has participated in the discussion by phone conversations. They have been open to what we were asking for and also had a few requests of their own. In the end, everyone gets most of what they are asking for without feeling like they got the short end of the stick.

Negotiating the common sticking points If you want to change an entrenched family tradition, remember to be patient. Traditions don’t become tradition over night and change will take time and compassion, maybe even over a few years. If your family travels for the holidays or you have a large family to accommodate in a short period of time, ask for leeway on timing. If you are always the one travelling, ask family to come to you this year. If you have hosted the celebration for the last few years, ask if someone else would like to this year. The same is also true if you would like to host for a change – simply ask if you can share in the hosting duties.

A few tips to remember when discussing the holidays with your family


  • Start this process early and allow time for a few conversations.
  • Open a discussion that expresses your needs/wants and invites your family to share theirs.
  • Be transparent with any agenda’s you have (seeing friends, escaping to a warm location, etc).
  • Remember that even though you have a wish list, everyone still gets to choose what they do, and it may not be what you wanted.
  • Be flexible and willing to negotiate.
  • Be as clear as possible on who is doing or bringing what (helping with/preparing/cooking dinner/decorations).


  • Start this conversation the day before your family festivities are expected to happen.
  • Be demanding or use ultimatums.
  • Be deceptive and try to hide something or be manipulative to get what you want.
  • Use guilt as leverage.

We may not have chosen our families, yet they provide a certain link to your past and future that you can’t get elsewhere. Instead of prolonging the pain, commit to a process of conversations and you are on your way to a happier holiday season. Bring on the mulled wine! Leave me a comment below and share what has worked for you and your family around the holidays. If you are looking for some help in navigating through stress with your family, contact me now to set up a FREE consultation. As a Certified Relationship Coach, I have helped many families move from defensive and toxic arguments to establishing a foundation for communication to deepen and growth relationships.