UT expert offers advice on stressful gatherings

UT expert offers advice on stressful gatherings

Posted: Monday, December 12, 2011 8:03 pm

KNOXVILLE — One of the best things about the holiday season is families and people can get together.
One of the worst things about the holiday season is … families and people can get together.
The holiday season sees many families making a sincere effort to spend time together, hoping to create memories to cherish for years to come. However, some gatherings don’t go so well, and even the best of events can have their share of snags. There are many causes of holiday stress, but strained relationships and uncomfortable family gatherings are a leading contributor to frazzled nerves and anxiety this time of year.
“When people don’t get along the first 11 months of the year, it’s unreasonable to expect them to get along at a holiday gathering,” says Dr. Denise Brandon, a family and parenting expert with University of Tennessee Extension. “We’re not obligated to spend time with people who are going to be unpleasant, rude or emotionally abusive, regardless of tradition or expectations” says Ms. Brandon. “Sometimes it’s better to avoid these situations. Just don’t get together. That sounds cruel, but it’s better to have one or two people wallowing in misery than 25.”
Today’s high divorce rate and families raising step children can create stressful moments. Divorced parents often come face-to-face with each other and former in-laws, and there can be disagreements about children splitting time between households during the holidays. Ms. Brandon says try not to put children in the middle of arguments. Make arrangements parent-to-parent, and remember that your goal is to create a happy, safe, and peaceful time for your child.
If you anticipate there might be uncomfortable moments at a gathering, Ms. Brandon has suggestions for making things go as smoothly as possible. Perhaps have your event in a public place such as a restaurant where behavior tends to be more restrained. If there are people you know don’t get along, by all means don’t put them together. One option is to have smaller gatherings throughout the week rather than having the whole extended family together on one day.
Above all, Ms. Brandon advises you to keep an open mind, and if possible, a sense of humor about family gatherings. Drop expectations that things will go perfectly, and spend your limited time with people you really care about, such as your children.
“Many times kids would much rather have a parent’s undivided attention than the latest electronic gadget,” says Ms. Brandon.
UT Extension operates in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties as the off-campus division of the UT Institute of Agriculture. An educational and outreach organization funded by federal, state and local governments, UT Extension, in cooperation with Tennessee State University, brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, youth and community development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.

Published in The Messenger 12.12.11

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