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Families – you don’t get to choose them(usually)

When it comes to family gatherings, any time of the year can be a stressful event for some people. None more so than Christmas. The once a year build up begins before October 31st. The shops and TV are full of sparkly happy people enjoying each other’s company. The sense of dread begins…

Sibling rivalry can reach its peak after day three of being back in a childhood bedroom only this time there might be litres of alcohol involved. Difficult and strained relationships with parents can come to the forefront once you walk back in the door. Extended members of the family who may also be visiting or staying over might think this is a good time to ask why you are still single; what are the plans to get pregnant now that the wedding and honeymoon is done; or why have you not quit that awful job yet?!

Traditions, right?

We often get trapped in a belief that because something has happened one way for several years it needs to or must keep going. This is something that any of us are free to challenge at any time. By opting to take a year out of the annual gathering and making alternative plans you are simply choosing a different tradition or making a new one. Essentially, we cannot stay trapped by historical traditions and need freedom to make our own. This is an issue that comes up for most of us – whether we are in a relationship, single, married with or without children. Ask yourself is this something I want to do this year? Would I like to try hosting my own Christmas with my chosen guests?


If you chose the above option, be clear and concise. Don’t feel the need to justify deciding for yourself. It does not mean a rejection of the family forever and ever…it simply means this year you are doing something else.

Do not get dragged into negative conversations about the reasons for changing traditions and naming specific people or specific agenda’s you are avoiding.


If you choose to attend family gatherings, then having your mind set on eliminating negative conversations/encounters from the beginning should be front and centre. Remember an opinion about you and your job/friends/lifestyle/partner/Christmas jumper is just an opinion. It only has the meaning that you allow to accept in the moment. Choose to walk away and remember to take deep breaths as you do. This is more effective if you limit the alcohol around the specific person who you anticipate clashing with.

Looking after yourself

Wherever you land for the main days make sure you have some kind of escape plan just for you. This can be sneaking out a back door to get a long walk in with some music, taking time away from the main room (s) with all the activity and have a nap, a long bath or shower, or read a book. Plan to catch up with friends who may be back in the local area and might be just as keen to step away for a bit. Or agree to call/facetime/zoom with a close friend.

Managing your finances

Bad budgeting and overspending happen to us all especially around Christmas. Pressure to give a better gift to Jane than Peter can give pulls us into unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Let people know in advance that your budget for the Christmas period is limited. This is not an embarrassing thing to say to anyone and it is a healthy way to express ourselves and state our needs from others.

Finally, what does Christmas mean to you?

Ask yourself this question. Then write it down somewhere, maybe in your phone notes. Leave it for a few days and come back before answering.

This needs to come from you and the meaning is going to be different for each person and that is ok. The idea that it means one thing or even two things has been set for us through advertising over the years. Step away and figure this out, it might just mean many more happy Christmas years for you.

These are generic and short term fixes for what might be a long-term problem, if you want specific advice on how to deal with triggers, difficult relationships, managing expectations or even self-care please contact us to book a therapist. You can book an appointment on 01 611 1719 or by emailing [email protected]

written by Donal Reilly, Systemic Psychotherapist and Clinician Support Manager, Centric Mental Health.

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