The “Should’s” of the Holidays (Hint: There Aren’t Any!)

With the holidays approaching, I am receiving many requests from clients to discuss the “requirements” or “should’s” of how they should spend time with others.  This is often accompanied by anxiety, tears, and dread.  For those of you who are already having a hard time due to infertility or pregnancy loss, suffering from postpartum depression, or dealing with caring for a preemie, being required to celebrate holidays may feel hollow or just downright wrong.  This can be made raw by others clueless comments or a cornucopia of babies and bellies.

For others who hail from families at Dysfunction Junction, the holidays can be trying for many reasons including jealousies, controlling people, unresolved childhood fights, past or current abuse, the silent treatment, passive-aggressive behavior, or back-handed comments, among many others.  People often return to the scene of the crime, that is that same old dynamics from years past, because they feel that they must.  Our families have a remarkable way of offering guilt and shame when we wish to do something different.  Here’s how I think about it:


Well, putting up with a Should Fest is just a shouldy way to live.

There is also a way that people have endless hope that THIS YEAR, things will be different than last year.  You already know something about this, though, folks.  Unfortunately, some people do not change, even if we wish they would.  The Unchanged Ones do not have to change.  You do…and can.

So what are the “should’s” of the holidays?  Wait for it (drum roll):  There aren’t any!  I know that this may come as a surprise to many of you who are often told by others what you should be doing, or should be thinking, or should be wanting.  When you go along with what others think you should do, two things happen: 1) you end up with resentments and 2) you end up upset with yourself, not the should-giver.  When you make a decision that is right for you, it is inevitable that someone else won’t like it but you will feel more peaceful in your mind and body.

Now if you feel that you must go along with a should-event, I don’t want you to feel anxious or trapped.  There are middle ways that can help you to function more freely and feel okay:

1) Drive separately, so you can leave early if you feel the need to do so.

2) Yes, you can stay for a shorter visit than is “required”.

3) Big drum roll–you can stay in a hotel!  It’s true!  It’s nice to have a place to decompress and rest when you are up to your eyeballs with someone else’s bad energy.

4) Take a rest in the bathroom.  People don’t usually follow you in there.

5) Smile and excuse yourself if you just don’t want to have the same upsetting conversation that you had with the same person last year (or the last 10 years).

6) Stay Velcro’d to your partner or another safe person.  Sometimes people will leave you alone if they cannot get you alone to say something ugly.

7) Develop a high sign with your partner that says, “Gotta go!”  Remember Carol Burnett’s pull on her earlobe at the end of her TV show?

The bottom line is do what’s right for you!  You have many choices that can allow for some warmth at joy at the holidays, as well as self-respect.  I wish you every good thing as you decide what’s right for you!


Skip to content