How to Beat Family Stress When You're Home for the Holidays

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Be Mindful of What Your Kids Need

Girl basting a Thanksgiving turkey with her grandmother.
Plan ahead to avoid family stress this holiday season. Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Getty Images

Do you secretly dread going home for the holidays? Whether you feel judged over a failed relationship, your personal parenting style, or general differences of opinion, you’re not alone. These tips will help you survive the holidays with your family this year: 

Do they need to go to bed earlier than your sister’s kids? Become antsy when they’re cooped up for days on end? Fall apart easily when overloaded with too much noise, screen time, or sugar? You know your kids better than anyone else in the house. So don’t hesitate to make decisions based on that knowledge and experience—particularly when you know it will make the next day a thousand times easier for everyone. And if your family pushes back on your decisions, simply respond with, "Trust me. This is what they need right now." You don't have to 'clear' your choices with them, either. You know what your kids need! 

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Make an Escape Plan

Mom and daughter at the park.
Head to the park to blow off steam and escape family stress during the holidays. Milton Brown/Getty Images

Visiting out-of-town relatives doesn’t have to mean literally being together 24/7. Work in a movie or take your kids to the local park or an indoor gym to blow off stream and give everyone a break. Even if you only have half an hour to get away, you’ll come back refreshed and better able to cope with little annoyances.

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Know Your Options

Girl in a hotel pool.
Blow off steam at the hotel pool. Johner Images/Getty Images

Who says you have to stay with your parents the whole time you’re in town? If you have travel points (or road-warrior friends who are willing to share), cash them in for a couple of nights at a local hotel. Worried about the backlash or hurting someone's feelings? Tell your family that you promised the kids a night or two in the hotel pool. Then take advantage of it and allow yourself to enjoy the small break. When you return to everyone else's stories of drama and conflict, you'll be glad you gave yourself a night or two off!

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Be Bold

Mom talking with grandma while holding baby.
Express your needs openly to avoid family stress at the holidays. LWA/Dann Tardif/Getty Images

If you’re bothered by the way things have ‘always been done’ in your family, speak up about it. Let your sister know if your kids are too old to be sharing an air mattress or let your parents know ahead of time that you'll be the one making decisions about your kids' bedtimes. Be clear about your boundaries, too. When someone goes behind your back to approve something you don't allow, calmly say, "I'm the parent, and it's my decision."

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Use Your Manners

Mom and daughter setting the table for Thanksgiving.
Teach your kids how to help out at family gatherings. Cultura RM Exclusive/Jakob Helbig/Getty Images

Be sure to exercise your manners and teach your kids to do the same. For example, make your beds, wipe down the sink after you wash up, and don't leave your toiletries to pile up in a shared bathroom. Be intentional about helping to prepare meals and clean up, too. Your hosts will appreciate the assistance, and sharing the workload is a great opportunity to get quiet family members to open up.

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Forget 'Perfect'

A smiling family shares a toast at Christmas dinner.
When you head home for the holidays, forget the idea that everything should be 'perfect.'. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Finally, remember that every family has its share of struggles. Yes, you'll get tired of one another and possibly offend each other. You may even wish you could escape heading home for the holidays altogether. But take the time to sort out the difference between the perfect ideal and the imperfect reality. Life's messy. Your family will disappoint you. You'll feel misunderstood at times. But you'll also have the opportunity to connect, learn something new about one another, and equip your kids with extended relationships they can count on in the years to come. And chances are, that's 100% worth the amount of family stress you'll put up with this holiday.