Grinchy Kids Playing "Emotional Tennis" at Christmas

Dear Any Answers,

Between my husband and I we have four children. I have two older son's and he has a 17 yrs old daughter and 19 yrs old son. As you know the holiday's are among us. I typically do all or most of the shopping and planning for the kids. 

So last year at our Christmas with our four kids. Pretty much everyone in the house thought it was a good idea to push my buttons. It was like pick on Jenny day. I ignored it until I couldn't take it anymore. I was upset and said a few things that I probably should have said. Like, I PLANNED EVERYTHING, I BOUGHT ALL THE GIFTS, STOP BEING UNAPPRECIATED, ETC...  

I have since forgotten about it...

This year, I noticed my husband unhappily more involved. He has been buying all the gifts for his kids and doesn't want me to buy anything. When I asked why, he stated, "don't you remember last year?"

He quickly reminded me of everything I said. I expressed to him I didn't remember because I let it go. I am wondering, how do we deal with this? I don't want to be reminded of my outburst every year.

Yours in holiday un-bliss Jenny M.

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Dear Soon to be Blissful Jenny M.,

Holidays carry BIG expectations, hope this perspective is just the thing to wrap up a great holiday in your home this year!

Nobody in the situation from last year's Christmas was actually wrong, what was really happening was poor communication. Whenever anger comes up it is because of fear. So instead of telling them how to behave (which is flat out frustrating because it won't work) you could instead say, "wait, we need to pause Christmas for a minute. I feel hurt by how you're all treating me. It appears this type of Christmas doesn't work for me anymore and we'll have to talk about another way it can work for me and for each of you." 

Then you could choose to do what feels good to you in that moment. I would like to take a nap or I need to go on a walk and when I return, because we are already into this year, let's start again, sound good? It’s important to separate yourself from the situation so they get time to process their feelings.

They're action of acting out, while it may seem to be them taking it out on you, what is really happening in these situations is there is a silent killer strangling Christmas. Then they take it out on you, which is a sign that their experience in the situation is coming out "sideways" versus them communicating directly. They likely are not getting what they want from Christmas and are blaming you when you when you don't even know what they want and are trying hard to create something but as it turns out, they reject it so they poke fun at it or clearly let you know it has not met their expectations through passive aggression.

Your cue was your frustration that something is off and this situation turned on you to end up with you not feeling very respected, appreciated and possibly loved. If we turn it back to them, they may not have felt very loved or understood by the Christmas but they don't know how to say that. It may also be tricky for these kids to feel the awkwardness of merging these two families.

What defines a family are their traditions, that's it. Getting the kids to give voice to their desires for celebrating the holiday is a great way to get them engaged in it. Then each person chooses a task to support the holiday so you are not creating it all. You and your husband can bring lists and go shopping together like it's a date. Don't be focused on if you can get all the right things for the kids, be focused on being together and having fun. If neither of you like holiday shopping and you find you can't relax while doing it, it may be it’s time to switch to giving money and a small item instead of hitting the shopping mall or spending time on the computer ordering things. 

Also, giving experiences is a great gift. Take the group to the theater, or make a tradition of bowling or take a family cooking class or try out something new! Each person in the family could make something for the holiday meal, you can support each other in the kitchen and help the kids learn the valuable skill of how to cook. So many options, take these and have a family meeting so you can get a plan that works for everybody, including you this Christmas. Remember, you don't have to create Christmas for them, that's where we get into trouble, you can create Christmas with them. In regard to not wanting last year’s situation mentioned again, tell them during the family meeting. Just say “I want last Christmas left in the past and it doesn’t work for me to have it brought up again” and don’t explain why. This will hold a clear boundary and get it to stop. If somebody should “start in” this holiday, maybe pre-choose, as a group a word to use to remind them to stop. The funnier the word, the more success it is likely to have. Or saying something like “Ohhhhhh.” The way you might to a naughty pet might work as well.

Happy Holidays!