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How to handle family stress during the holidays

  • As if caregiving wasn’t already stressful enough, add holidays, stress and quality time with family to the mix, and it could potentially concoct a combustible recipe for disaster. 

  • Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert and speaker based in New York, explains, “The holidays, by design, are already packed with expectations for perfection…the perfect pot roast, the perfect table setting, the perfect present. Add caregiving into the mix and the stress and anxiety can be even higher.”   

  • So when mom’s sick or dad’s in the hospital, caregivers get game, courtesy of Farley’s tips. 

  • Be on your best behavior. Even if one family member is taking on the majority of caregiving responsibilities (financial, legal, emotional, household and more), and others who show up for holiday cheer and not much else, you should still be your best self. (Ahem, kick resentment to the curb, at least for the holiday, ‘k?) 

  • Caregiving is a team effort—even when one family member is shouldering 90% of the burden. Strife is not going to improve matters, but rather, adds one more layer of stress to an already difficult situation. Everyone should be on his or her best behavior to ensure the scenario does not become more challenging than it already is. You all owe that to one another, and to your loved one, too.” 

  • Ask for help calmly and rationally. When you want to ask that MIA relative to step up their game while reprimanding them in the process,  Farley doesn’t recommend going on the attack to draw a line in the sand or back someone into a corner. 

  • “The results will not leave either of you feeling satisfied. No matter what, there are no ‘winners’ here. And it’s essential to remember that in all likelihood, your relationship with siblings or other family members could be irreparably damaged by such acrimonious conversations, remaining wrecked long after your loved one has passed."

  • His advice? Keep calm and carry on. For real.  

  • “I would express your thoughts rationally and calmly, putting everything down on paper in advance of your discussion, so you don’t forget anything. And avoid trigger words such as ‘but’ and ‘unfortunately,’ which prompt people to raise their guards. Use the inclusive ‘we’ whenever possible rather than ‘I’ or ‘you.’ Finish your thoughts in a way that is open-ended rather than close-ended.” 

  • Check it: 

  • BEFORE
    “I’m sorry, sis, but unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day nor money in the bank for me to make that happen.” 

  • AFTER
    “Because there are not enough hours in the day or money in the bank for that to happen, we’ll have to come up with another way. What else could we do here?” 

  • Eat out and lean into happier times. Here’s the thing: meal preparation can be a burden and so can those often self-imposed demands for perfection.  

  • “Ease your stress by suggesting a grab bag this year rather than everyone buying one another presents. Have dinner out at a restaurant so no one has to cook and no one has to do dishes. Break out home movies and photo albums to help you all recall the happier times, and to help you remember that through thick and thin, you must never forget that you are all still family.”