“I wouldn’t mind spending Christmas with my family – if only they’d behave.” Robinson and Staeheli, the authors of Unplug the Christmas Machine, claim this remark echoes “the secret thoughts of a lot of people…Instead of relaxing into a warm family celebration, they find themselves feeling judgmental or aloof, or nursing hurt feelings.”
Granted, physical logistics often plays a role in family gatherings. Sometimes, it’s the host who prepares that feels unappreciated, the guests who overcrowd the house that feel uncomfortable, or the family who travels to multiple destinations that feel overwhelmed, but often in an attempt to please everyone, people miss out on a meaningful experience. According to Robinson and Staeheli, under such circumstances, family dynamics are inevitably highlighted, making it more difficult to attain the perfect family setting we desire.
“People who have a long and intimate history together invariably have complex reactions to each other. Freud could have filled a notebook sitting on a couch at a single Christmas reunion. Unless people give up their fantasy of an ideal family and emotionally prepare themselves for a household of relatives with all their strengths and weaknesses standing out in bold relief, they’re going to be disappointed,” argue Robinson and Staeheli.
Want to fix the Perfect Family Syndrome? Here’s what Unplug the Christmas Machine recommends:
- Write down the names of family members that you have complicated or mixed feelings about.
- After each name, write down something that troubles or disappoints you about that person.
- If you have little reason to believe that people are going to change, tell yourself, “I accept the fact that this person will probably —–.”
- Now think of one thing that you especially like about each of the people on your list and write those desirable qualities down by their name.
Robinson and Staeheli maintain, “When people are able to focus on their family strengths and not dwell on their weaknesses throughout the holiday season, they find that Christmas is many times more enjoyable.”
I’ve taken this task a step further. Reuniting with family became less stressful once I considered how I might be perceived by my family. In other words, what about how I acted would end up on this list if they were to complete the Perfect Family Syndrome exercise?
Doing so helped me take control of the situation – whether it’s planning activities so we wouldn’t feel cooped up in someone else’s house, offering to cook a meal my kids are guaranteed to eat, or arriving late so I won’t feel cheated out of quality time with my own family. As a result, I’m counting down to Christmas, the way I always did as a child, and while there won’t be a gift from Santa for me under the tree, it won’t matter. I’ll already have gotten what I wanted – a season filled with love and joy.
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Also, check out Victoria Winterhalter’s blog, Befriending Forty, and find out what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.