CT Press Club Award-Winning Article…
By Barbara Wilkov
The holidays are coming…great joy, compassionate giving, good food, good friends, time spent with your loved ones, sugar plums dancing in your head…scratch that…crowded shopping malls, spending money you don’t have for gifts no one will appreciate anyway, cooking and baking with too little time for too many people, family gatherings…with mom…STRESS!
Family get-togethers with mom can be stressful anyway, but when you add the other stresses from the holidays on top, it can feel like overload. Whether you normally spend a lot of time with your mom during the year or only during special occasions such as the holidays, the two of you can clash, things can erupt and feelings can end up hurt on both sides. Ok, so what do you do?
In many ways, the same strategies that can be helpful throughout the year can also be useful during the holiday season. First off, just remember that you’re not alone. That’s a really important one. We, as women, can tend to be very hard on ourselves, so reprimanding yourself for being too sensitive, not patient enough, a “bad daughter”…none of this helps…anyone!
The mother-daughter relationship can be difficult, face it, but that doesn’t mean that you’re all alone in this. Just remember there are many of us out there this holiday season trying to bite our tongues, take deep breaths, and restrain ourselves, with varying degrees of success. In fact, according to Penn State research, conflicts and complicated emotions are the norm between moms and daughters. And, though the tie remains strong and enduring in the majority of cases, 80-90% of adult daughters wish their relationship was better! Ah, the mother-daughter relationship…
When the mother-daughter relationship is challenging to begin with, the holidays can exacerbate an already stressful situation. But there are things you can do. Let’s take a look at a few particularly doable strategies to try this holiday season…
Strategies to try this holiday season:
- “Keep it short, sweetheart” – Limit the time you spend together (if you can). Even if you’re visiting from out of town, you can still find ways to keep from spending too many uninterrupted hours together. In general, 2-3 hours max is good. Try not to let your time together drag out all day without a break; even during a holiday meal, you can spend some time talking to other relatives so that you can take a bit of a break.
- Just do it – If you can, get out of the house! See if you can do an activity rather than just go to eat; this will give you time together without having to talk and then it will give you something specific to talk about later. This isn’t always possible during the holidays, but if you can, this will help take the day’s focus off of you and your relationship. Going to a holiday show, checking out Christmas lights in your neighborhood, or shopping at a holiday craft fair together will give you a shared experience to discuss later. If you do have to spend time at home and can’t get out, then rent a holiday movie, play a game, etc. Just try to stay busy.
- Be prepared – Remember, your mother is your mother and she’s going to push the buttons she usually pushes no matter what day it is. So, try to manage your expectations and accept that your mother will criticize you, drive you crazy or do whatever she normally does that creates conflict. Just be prepared for this. Don’t expect otherwise.
- Your mom’s a person too – Try to remember that the ideal mother fantasy that we all dream about is very rare in the real world. Seeing your mother as a flawed human being with hopes and dreams and challenges of her own is very important and can help humanize her and enable you to “cut her some slack” at times. In fact, some of her behavior, while it may not feel like it at the time, may actually be coming from a place of caring or from wanting to be needed or helpful. That can be very hard to recognize, but can be helpful if you do. Just remember she is your mother. All you can do is deal with what you have.
- Give a verbal gift – This is actually one of the best gifts you can give to your mother anytime of the year. Think about something your mother either did for you as a child or that she does for you now that you especially like and tell her about it and how much you appreciate it. Everybody does something right (yes, they do!). It’s a nice gift to actually tell her and one that she will appreciate. This can help extend some healing and can maybe even lead to some positive changes in the relationship.
Again, remembering that you’re not alone in your feelings of anxiety and stress is important. This can be a particularly difficult and emotional time when dealing with your mother. Give some of these strategies a try to make for a more peaceful and enjoyable holiday season. They may not all work for everyone and in every situation. If one doesn’t work, just try another or try them in combination.
And hopefully you can have a happy and stress-free (or at least stress-less) holiday season!