How to stop home discord This Christmas Season

A Halifax-based therapist Lana MacLean on how to deal with family tensions.

Family holidays are often envisioned as a time for joy, love, and light, but a stove’s flame might not be the only thing cooking on the stove.

In the year 2000, one-fourth above Canadians were experiencing exceptionally or moderate anxiety levels. They also were excessively drinking. In addition, the number of COVID cases was increasing as restrictions were tightening in many areas across Canada families were unable to gather for celebrations. With over 75 percent of Canadians fully vaccinated and vaccinated, gatherings will likely return, with the possibility of family tension and disputes.

We asked her to share some suggestions on how to handle the holiday season, where discussions about COVID and vaccine status can get a bit complicated.

As a therapist, do you often encounter clients who ask for assistance with family conflicts?

Unfortunately, yes. However, if someone is in therapy, they search for some resolution or reconciliation. Thus, I view conflict as a chance to expand and strengthen families rather than a reason for a conflict. Therapy is about questioning and investigating the root of our beliefs.

Do you think a holiday meal is a perfect time to engage in conversations that challenge our beliefs and values? Like, for example, when discussing one of the COVID vaccines?

No. I’m advising families to be cautious. If you’re planning on celebrating holidays, these discussions should be conducted before the celebration and not at the time of the event.

As we celebrated Thanksgiving this year, My spouse and I had a long conversation about how we would like to share our rules for protecting people. We decided to send an all-group text. We texted, “Looking forward to having everyone join us for the Thanksgiving dinner. However, we’re taking care and asking guests to come only if you’ve got your vaccination.

We must look at the best interests of everyone. So we’ll be able to invite you to the table we have put up outside, but you won’t be inside if you’re not vaccinated.”

My nephew, 22 years old, said, “OK, Aunt Lana. He said, “Can I get a to-go plate?” I said, “Of course you can.”

What was the Thanksgiving experience like?

Amazi, ng! My family members who weren’t vaccinated decided to stay in the house because the weather was unpredictable.

Our husbands and I set the standard that family members should have reasonable expectations without guilt. Our family was happy to accept the boundaries set and, without any disagreement, everyone understood that they were not in the wrong but rather the family.

There is no need to be concerned. If we’re coming from an angry position, this creates defensiveness in others. I’m in an equitable place to state, “I have a responsibility to those I cherish. If you’re a lover, then you’ll realize that this isn’t about making you feel excluded; it’s giving you the choice of being accepted.”

I think from a values standpoint. The decision not to get an immunization is a decision based on values. It sets us to be a target for resentment [to judge or change someone else’s decision and to change someone’s decision. I try to reduce the negative feelings which can arise by telling them, “Well, if this is the path you want to take, you can take this option that I’m willing to consider.”

The choice not to be vaccinated is a good thing. What is your explanation?

As you’re aware that I, too, am African Nova Scotian. As members of the BIPOC community are a part of our collective and not the individual. We are all connected as a collective.

If you’re making a unique choice (of not having a vaccination), People will immediately say, “You must consider what this could mean in the case of Granny or the children in our family who are younger than 12.” This is because so many racialized communities have co-morbidities–health issues like diabetes, cardiac health, asthma, respiratory distress–as a result of health inequities.

It gets complicated when you consider it as, “I’m going to become an island, it’s my own decision.” You’ll lose some of your social networks.

It’s the responsibility; it’s the host to cook and define boundaries. So trying to influence someone’s decision shouldn’t be a priority in any way.

It’s done. I don’t think the table at dinner or family gatherings is an excellent occasion to discuss who has or doesn’t have the vaccine. So for Thanksgiving, we do a potluck. My husband and I cook the turkey and salmon and ham, and Auntie Sherry Ann makes a massive dish of cheese and mac. And my brother-in-law makes a huge fantastic potato salad. He also said, “It’s those things we’re anticipating without discussing COVID.” In my family, it’s time to practice the piano and sing. This year for the first time, it was the TikTok dance-off. This is about how we’re going to organize that time. Sometimes, having a structure will prevent us from falling into the COVID rabbit holes and being lost. So let’s celebrate with one another.

What advice can you offer to someone worried about a family gathering or conflict?

Get up early, go home early. Let the host know. Determine who’s present and who could be the triggers, and what you’ll do to prepare yourself to be there mentally. Instead of spending all 8 hours in the day, be there at least two hours. For example, you could say, I’m planning to attend a dinner party. However, I’ll need to get somewhere else to have dessert.

Two, don’t drink excessively. Drinking alcohol can reduce inhibitions. Also, our tolerance of specific behaviors of others can get smaller.

3. You don’t need in person. You can zoom in just a bit.

Reduce your expectations of others. Be realistic about your expectations of yourself and other people. Do not say that this will be the most beautiful Christmas holiday, Thanksgiving, wedding anniversary, or wedding ever. This isn’t how your family is working. Set realistic expectations about whom you will be able to align yourself with and who the trouble spots are. If a problem is discovered, it can be sure that both you and your friend can use a small code word that says, “I’m out.”

The most important thing is spending time with people you agree with. It’s not necessary to agree with everybody. There’s plenty to learn at the children’s table and the older tables. Decide who you would like to spend time with during these gatherings.

When you’re ready to go out, program it to your mobile or ask someone else to call you. You can be able to say, “OK, that’s it, I’ve got a call. I’m leaving. Wonderful seeing everyone.” And exit. You don’t require an excuse to go. Like you don’t need a reason to go in.

Do you have anything to add that you think is essential for readers who may be anxious about the holiday season?

The anxiety or nervousness stems from a previous experience. Do not try to unravel these roots even if you have only the time of four or five hours. The purpose of family gatherings is to enjoy time with family and not engage in big arguments that will lead to disagreements. This isn’t the occasion or time to vent your frustrations. Instead, it’s a good time for saying, “Nice to meet you.”

Visit Bronte Medical Center for more health information.

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