Christmas has always been a big event in my immediate family, even though we could be considered agnostic. And being the big event that it is, my siblings and I travel home to my parents’ house, every year for Christmas, no matter what. While I’m grateful that I have the ability to visit my family during the holidays, and while I love the time I spend with them, I have to say that re-adjusting to family life at home can be difficult, especially if your stay extends past two weeks, like mine.
When I first arrive home, I feel like Damien in the Mean Girls candy cane scene, decked out in Santa gear, beard and all, joyfully tossing candy. “Taylor Zimmerman, two for you. Glenn Coco? Four for you, Glenn Coco. You go, Glenn Coco!” I am completely absorbed by the holiday spirit, and for the first week of my temporary living situation, nothing– not even my deflating air mattress or the dullness of my small hometown– can snuff the good energy out. But, by the third week of being home, the visit begins to feel more like an entrapment, in which I am forced to do the same, boring things every day and talk to the same four people.
I have now been home in Michigan for almost one week. The fairy-dusted, magical feeling of being at home has slowly worn off, and the stress of the holidays has quickly built up. There is now arguing between my mother and me, my sister and me, my sister and my brother, my mother and my sister, etc.; there’s anxiety beaming from my mother like rays of light; and, not to mention, there’s two feet of wrapping paper and red ribbon covering our living room floor. So, just as I expected, I find myself lying in my makeshift-bed at night, wishing I were back in the peace and quiet of my Portland apartment.
Instead of leaving early, though, I found other strategies to cope with sometimes feeling captive in my childhood home.
Create a space of your own: Even if you’re like me and you no longer have a bedroom at your parents’ anymore, or, if you’re staying at a different family member’s house where you never had a bedroom, it’s still important to try and create a secluded space you feel relaxed in. Just like when you were a teenager at home, you need a place to storm off to when you’re feeling annoyed/pissed/upset/sleepy. My old bedroom is occupied by my older brother, and his old bedroom has turned into my space, which is, basically, an empty room where my parents throw old junk that’s too random to put anywhere else in the house. It felt pretty barren when I arrived, but I took an afternoon to make it mine. I unpacked my suitcase, organized my clothes in floor piles, hung my jacket and purse up, lined up my shoes, arranged my books on the nightstand and threw my blankets on the bed.
Reconnect with old friends: Yeah, this sometimes makes me feel cringingly awkward, too, but it’s worth the call or text. Most people I see when I’m in my hometown are friends from high school or middle school. Getting together can be weird at first– the smalltalk, the silence, the now dissimilar interests– but it tops being cooped up at your parents’ all day and night. You’ll feel refreshed after going out, which will probably lead to feeling more eased when you’re around family again.
Stay busy: I sometimes feel like I hate being home for so long because there’s NOTHING to do. It’s a small town, I’ve seen all my old friends, there aren’t any bars I’d actually willingly visit and there’s no job that needs doing. In this situation of boredom, you can either opt for a 14-hour sleep session or find something to do. I hate naps, so I tend to ask my mom if she needs help with anything. I help her wrap presents, wash the dishes, do my laundry or organize scattered items from the kitchen or living room.
Remember it won’t last long: Most likely, the time you spend with your family is only once or twice a year, and a few weeks at most. So keep in mind that the frustrations are temporary.
We’re all constantly changing, so try to allow room for growth: There will be times when your parents accuse you of “not being the same,” or when your sibling calls you out for being intense and stressed out all the time…And you will feel like, “What? I’m just being myself!” Instead of being on the defensive, however, actually give a little thought to your family’s comments. At the end of the day, these people deeply love and care for you, so they are not out to make you upset on purpose…and probably reflect some level of miscommunication. It takes some effort to re-adjust to understanding each other perfectly, after living apart for a long time. Conversely, if you feel like someone else has changed or acting unusual, try to understand where that person is coming from. Remember, we’re all constantly changing and allowed to grow into different selves.
What about you, dumplings? How do you stay calm, happy, and drama-free while at home for the holidays?
Also by Marlee: Time Spent Drifting – Being Okay with the Directionless Phase
More family tips: How to Keep Kids Grounded Over the Holidays
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Photo: Roman Drits via Barn Images