Dear Dr. Sohail,
Christmas, one word, one day, that brings to mind many feelings, memories and obligations. Peace on earth, good will towards men, joy to the world, and Santa with a sleigh full of toys. These are pretty high goals to achieve, especially for a season that now means increased stress and anxiety for me trying to meet everyone’s expectations of the holiday – the perfect presents wrapped and under a beautiful Christmas tree, endless food, delicious cookies and the happy gathering of friends and family. Somehow along the way I became responsible for providing this to my husband, children, parents, in-laws, brothers, sisters, as well as nieces and nephews. I accomplished it very successfully for quite a few years, not so much recently.
I also like to believe everyone can get along, that family is more important than anything, but this image collides during the holidays. Although I tend to avoid conflict, usually by compromising, the rest of my family have major issues with each other. Many of the problems go back a lot of years, and are managed by avoidance not resolution. This conflict has peaked in recent years and has caused my brothers and sisters to almost not speak except for when absolutely required for a family function, a birthday celebration, wedding, and of course, Christmas.
Over the past many years I have hosted Christmas dinner at my house which use to be great. I loved to do it. Now there is an underlying uncomfortable feeling about putting everyone together and I probably start worrying about it when November hits. Unlike my mother, I just can’t not think about it. Another Christmas is approaching and at this point I am hosting everyone again but I am not sure that I can and I’m not sure how I can not.
Our last Christmas was a disaster, which has never been discussed. My brother who is single with no children has a difficult time at Christmas, reflecting on all the loneliness and losses in his life instead of appreciating all he has and enjoying all my family around him. When our brothers and sisters arrived with their families and our parents he let all his past issues toward them come out. Just as dinner was about to be served, there was an intense interaction between my brothers, which quickly became the threat of a fight. The teenage children tried to fix things but really only made it worst. Then everyone started yelling, threatening to leave, asking me to chose who should stay, and finally the incident ended with my brothers leaving!
We have had limited interaction all together since and there has been no attempt at resolving or really discussing what happened. My mom says forget about it, that I make too big a deal about everything, but here I am again deciding what to do on Christmas day. I can’t chose between my siblings but I don’t think I can do it all again hoping for the best. My children don’t like to think their happy family Christmases are over. Dr. Sohail can you help me enjoy the holidays again and achieve what I am trying to create for everyone else?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
FROM IDEALISM TO REALISM
Dear Jasmine, Thank you so much for sending your letter to our Christmas Blog. I am hopeful that your letter will inspire other Blog readers to share their thoughts and questions.
When I was read your letter, I had he impression that although you have affectionate Green Zone relationships with your siblings, unfortunately some of your siblings have an angry Red Zone relationship with each other. Such Red Zone relationships make the whole family system quite stressful. No wonder you start feeling distressed in November thinking about Christmas. Since you have no control over how other people will interact with each other, it is understandable for you to be anxious.
It appears to me that your family members have poor communication with each other. That is why they have not discussed last year’s family crisis and have not resolved the conflict. I have a couple of suggestions for you to consider:
- Allow yourself to let go of taking responsibility for other people’s behavior. If your siblings do not communicate with each other, it is not your fault.
- Have a meeting with your nuclear family and discuss whether they would like to have a peaceful Green Zone Christmas dinner on their own. You could ask them to consider having Christmas dinner with just the nuclear family on Christmas day and meet smaller groups of the extended family on different days during holiday season.
- Send a letter to all of your siblings sharing that you love them and would like to host Christmas dinner but you do not want to walk on egg shells. You can ask them to promise to be respectful and courteous with each other when they come to your house for Christmas dinner. You can give them the choice to not attend if they do not feel they can be respectful of each other.
Dear Jasmine !
You need to create your own peaceful Green Zone Family this year so that you can look forward to Christmas dinner next year. If you have an enjoyable Christmas experience this year then you can repeat it next year. Once you do the homework with your family this year, you can reap the benefits in the future.
I hope you feel strong enough to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others and rekindle the spirit of Christmas.
I think you are an idealist and want to see loving families and peaceful communities throughout the world. But you need to become a realist. I believe that family is the unit of any community in the world. The more we can create peaceful Green Zone families, the more we can become part of creating peaceful Green Zone communities and we will be able to create a peaceful Green Zone World together.
Dr. K. Sohail