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Holiday & Seasonal

Navigating Family Dynamics During the Holidays

When it comes to family around the holidays it can sometimes be a little tricky. Learn how to navigate the holidays to make time with family enjoyable.

By Hannah Purvis

As an adult, there is an element of freedom and choice in your daily routine. While, yes, most of us have to wake up and go to work, there are small moments of in-between when we can decide how we want to go about things.

For example, maybe one day I wake up and decide that I want ice cream for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. While certainly lacking in daily nutrients, this is a choice I can make for myself. These are the small moments that we sometimes catch ourselves saying ‘That’s right, it’s my house, my choice. I’m the grownup now,’ with a triumphant smile.

christmas tree with family members standing in the blurred background
Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

However, no matter how much control we exercise over our daily lives throughout the year, when the holidays roll around and it’s time to visit family, there is a level of reversion to our younger years we may find ourselves falling into. Or, more accurately put, being pushed back into by our oftentimes well-intentioned family member.

5 Tips for Dealing With Family During the Holidays

Open the Dialogue

If you know there are certain things that irk you about going home for the holidays, consider setting up a time in advance to discuss them with your family. Maybe it’s something as simple as being treated like a child from the moment you step back in the door, or perhaps it’s much more difficult topics like different views on politics or relationships.

Whatever the tension may be, opening the dialogue in advance and discussing a way to avoid any tension around the holidays themselves could be an opportunity to nip problems in the bud before they happen!

person talking on phone held up to their ear
Photo by Timur Repin on Unsplash

Set Boundaries

As much as we’d like to believe that a well-intentioned conversation can fix all wrongs, sometimes that just isn’t the case. If you’ve expressed concerns with family and they aren’t taking the conversation seriously, this is a good time to start setting some boundaries for your trip.

Boundaries can be things such as agreeing not to bring up certain topics, not forfeiting your mental health or routines to humor anyone else, and even deciding what you will and will not spend around the holidays to keep within a budget. Make sure you:

  • Decide on your boundaries before heading home
  • Set the boundaries in a respectful manner and remind others that these are to help yourself, not to slight anyone else

person reading a book sitting on bed with coffee mug next to them
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Pack Items That Will Bring Support
As an adult, I’ve built my home to be personal, comfortable and safe for myself and my partner. It’s filled with things we love that supplement our routines and the life we’re building together. As much as I do enjoy going home for the holidays, there are some things I miss about my own space when we get there.

Having a few items that bring me comfort and a sense of normalcy while being away can help from feelings of anxiety that may creep in. Examples of support items might be:

  • A yoga mat to continue your routine away from home
  • A book or journal
  • Noise-canceling headphones for moments when you just want to zone out

They can also be silly small things like your favorite type of tea and creamer, because your family doesn’t normally have that kind. Anything that will bring you comfort and ground you while away from your own environment.

person holding a full latte
Credit: Unsplash

Prioritize Self-Care and Moments of Quiet

Whether your family time is typically open with lots of time to relax, or packed to the brim with structured activities, prioritizing moments of self-care and quiet are vital to a well-rounded trip home! If you typically go on a daily run, make sure to build time into your schedule to keep to that routine. Draw yourself a bubble bath and spend some time alone with a book and a glass of wine!

Make sure you’re factoring in down time for yourself so you don’t burn out. If anyone gives you a hard time for needing to step away, just remember to hold firm to those boundaries we talked about!

Maintain Realistic Expectations and Have Empathy

Overall, try to maintain realistic expectations during your time visiting with family. They will likely always see you as their little one and may have a hard time separating that version of you from the adult that’s standing in front of them today. Have empathy for the fact that it’s hard to see family change and grow up and try to indulge in any traditions or bonding activities, as long as they don’t push against any of your important boundaries.

two family members hugging beside Christmas tree
Credit: Unsplash


Spending time with family during the holidays is a gift that not everyone has the chance to do. I know that family dynamics can be tricky and will look different for every single person. They will also often change through different stages of life. My biggest piece of advice is to be kind to yourself and those you’re spending time with.

Find the balance between self-care and putting yourself out there to make new memories with those you love most (even when it feels tricky)!

If you’re looking for something to bond over this holiday season, consider sponsoring a local family in need’s Christmas list and set up a registry using our site! Encourage everyone in your family to contribute to a few of the gifts. If there's one thing that brings people closer together it's the spirit of giving!

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