7 Dec

It can be difficult to remain spirited through the holidays once high expectations allow stress to become an obstacle. However, West Virginia University Extension Service Family and Human Development Specialist Jane Riffe, Ph.D., says it’s possible to stay grounded if you follow simple steps this holiday season.

Set expectations

It may seem hard to avoid getting hopeful for a flawless family feast, but with ample communication to family members, it is possible to have everything go smoothly—even if it’s not the exact vision everyone expects.

“It’s what we expect of ourselves, or what we think mother or father are expecting of us that can be the most stressful because if we get caught in the crossfire of all that, someone will be disappointed,” Riffe said.

Talk to family members early to dodge the disappointment. By explaining to them that you may have to leave dinner early or that you won’t have time to make the pumpkin pie because of other obligations, you can avoid hurt feelings in the end.

Set a game plan

Planning in advance can save a lot of trouble for families who need to divide time. Whether it’s a traditional, blended or separated family unit, the essential thing to remember is to think ahead and know that juggling time can be an issue.

Couples should talk to each other first, before any promises are made to a parent, grandparent and so on. They should decide as a unit where and when they’re going before anyone mentions that they will definitely be able to make it to the event a relative is hosting.

“Keep in mind that splitting time between families will never be fair and reach anyone’s hopes if they’re set too high,” Riffe said. “Time can’t be split 50/50, so the family has to keep talking about it and do the plan that’s best for them.

Set boundaries

Couples should show both sides of the family that they make decisions together, and those decisions should be supported and respected once they’re made.

“You have many years to negotiate holidays,” Riffe said. “If you don’t set boundaries in the beginning, the pressure will likely get worse.”
Remember that staying positive and flexible will help, but it’s crucial to create those limits as a united front at the beginning of the holiday season to avoid your preferences being overlooked.

Set priorities

When discussing holiday plans with a partner, it’s important to take note of traditions that mean the most to him or her. That doesn’t mean neglecting your own family traditions, but finding a middle ground between the two to reach a compromise is a key priority.

Another priority Riffe stresses is to stick together during the holiday season. Sometimes the pressure of trying to please many people at once can be so overwhelming that couples will decide to tackle the holidays alone with their own sides of the family. Riffe recommends staying united and using it as an opportunity for growth in your relationship.

“It’s not healthy to split up because you’re sending the message that ‘my family origin is more important than my partner relationship’ and you’re missing making the holiday magic with your new family,” she said. “How a couple tackles this task can be predictive of how they will handle future conflicts.”

Whatever your family decides is best when handling the holidays, try to keep stress at a minimum when possible. The holidays are meant to be full of cheer, not worry and fear; so, apply these tips and aim for a happy holiday.

For more information on family-related stress, visit or contact your local WVU Extension Service office.

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CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service

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