By Jeremy Jordan
Recently, I received an e-mail from a colleague who wished me a happy holiday season in the postscript. He taught me that where he is from, the celebration of Christmas begins in the ‘Ber’ months, or the months that end in those three letters. His comment reminded me just how close the holiday season is. As the season arrives, so will the challenges of family interaction. I find it ironic that we spend so much time either running from the holidays or sprinting toward them. Regardless of which mindset accompanies this time of year, it all leads to stress. We spend so much energy working for that picture-perfect family moment. We then share it on social media, hungry for comments, likes, and shares. Is the way we’re going about it really making the most of the holiday, though? One recurring theme in both my family and the families of those I counsel is the tendency to “tolerate dysfunction” for the holiday season. We excuse behavior, and justify our enablement of said behavior. “As soon as Christmas is over, I’m going to send my son in to get the help he needs.” Or we hear, “It could always be worse. At least my mom doesn’t get drunk the day of the family gathering.” But at what point are we ready to address issues? What typically occurs is that we tolerate the behavior, but we also expect that individual to begin the New Year with a fresh start. “I’m going to overcome _______ this time, and I’m serious.” We all take a breath of relief, believing that the struggle is over. Realistically, we ought to know that it’s unlikely. A few months go by, and old behaviors return—or even increase. We then give up, saying “He just isn’t going to get the help he needs.” Perhaps we can’t do anything about it? I propose that settling for dysfunction is part of the cycle that encourages unacceptable behaviors. No matter how little control we feel we have, we have more control than we think. We are all capable of setting up boundaries that limit our exposure to dysfunction. Those boundaries can even be the motivation to help family members seek professional help. Taking these steps can help us realize that we don’t have to live like that anymore. We can genuinely enjoy family gatherings and create lasting memories. Our children can see us taking these steps, and they’ll learn how to replicate it by example. Think about it: family gatherings free of the elephant in the room. Does it sound too good to be true? It isn’t. As I wrote this, I looked up some family photos from previous holiday gatherings, birthdays, vacations, etc. I found one photo that was especially relevant. In the picture, all of us are smiling, documenting that we went on this trip, and that we had a great time. When I consider the photo, though, nothing could seem further from the truth. I remember the verbal and physical altercation that occurred immediately before the photo more than any other aspect of that family time. While I have since processed those events, I realize the importance of not recreating them. It’s now my obligation to protect my own family to the best of my ability. So where do you stand? Are you tired of worrying about what Thanksgiving will feel like this year? Are you sick of walking on eggshells as you try to converse with family that you have difficulty relating to? Or are you tired of sitting in a room, surrounded by people, while feeling completely and utterly alone? There are ways to cope with this, and I’d be happy to discuss your options. Seeking help is only one call away, and you can never start too soon.
Jeremy S. Jordan is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works at Front Porch Family Services. He is especially interested in working with couples and families, helping others to learn how to navigate the many challenges that occur throughout life. Including his training, Jeremy has been counseling since 2013 and licensed as an LPC since 2016. He currently resides in Cincinnati, OH, with his wife, two children, and two dogs.