The 2 Things You Need to Survive Holiday Family Drama

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Okay, friends, the holidays are coming; who’s ready to run the gauntlet of stress and family drama?  Between the last-minute gift buying and feeling like you might as well pitch a tent at the grocery store, holidays are like running the hurdles at a high school track meet. Eventually, due to crushing fatigue, you don’t jump high enough and get whacked in the groin, launching yourself into the air and landing with a spectacular face plant!


Or maybe that is just how my holidays go..?

Family Drama During The Holidays

Does it have to be this difficult every year?

Behind all the joy and merriment, holiday family drama can feel like finding a turd floating in the punch bowl!

Holidays carry so many messages and expectations. Perfect food, beautifully wrapped gifts, and an endless amount of energy to host vibrant celebrations. It’s no wonder that so many women struggle with anxiety and depression during this time of year.

Holidays Are Stressful

While I can’t help you plan the perfect 7-course meal, served on the most outstanding vintage dishes, surrounded by home décor that would impress the most discriminating interior designer, I can help you manage your family drama stress levels.

And frankly, beauty and perfection are useless if you are locked in the kitchen pantry, sobbing and stress-eating all the fruitcake!

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Holidays Are Hard, Have a Laugh

We all know that the holidays are hard. Come on, it’s no secret that most of us spend too much, eat too much and sadly, drink too much to cope with the family drama.

Now that we have told the truth let’s loosen up a bit with some fun quotes:

I am dreaming of a white Christmas, but if the white runs out, I will drink red. –

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. – Maya Angelou

Christmas: the only time of year you can sit in front of a dead tree, eating candy out of socks. –

Feel better yet? Alternating between loving and hating the holidays is a common human experience. Whether you are laughing or crying, there is a good chance you are just like the rest of us!

Holiday Family Drama is Real

Now that you are a bit more relaxed let’s talk about two of the most important topics that affect all holidays. Managing expectations and navigating family drama during family gatherings are at the top of the list for most women.

Family Drama and Managing Your Expectations

Learning to manage expectations for yourself is a critical life skill. Once we learn to manage our thoughts, we can help others create reasonable expectations of us.  When we participate in unrealistic behavior or thoughts, we might feel sad and like we are disappointing others.

It’s normal to have an emotional response to the feelings of being disappointed or let down. Making positive changes to your self-perception is very important. When you hold yourself to unrealistic expectations, you often end up harshly judging yourself. It doesn’t take much for your inner critic to start the critical cycle of negative self-talk!

Managing Your Expectations Helps You Feel Balanced

Unrealistic expectations can also make you feel:

  • Unspecified sadness
  •  A sense of shame
  • A feeling of being hollow on the inside
  • Loud, intrusive thoughts about being imperfect
  • A sense that you don’t measure up to others, you are not normal

When we have unrealistic expectations, we judge ourselves harshly. And sometimes, we teach other people to mistreat us if we don’t meet their standards. Managing expectations will reduce the family drama that pops up yearly during the holidays.

Holiday Stress Management

 Sometimes we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves during the holidays, leading to disappointment and frustration. Twelve dozen cookies for the office party? Sure, no problem! Take charge of the local toy charity gift drive?

Absolutely- I mean, someone has to do it, right? Many women have difficulty saying “no” to requests for holiday help.

If you have ever considered locking your keys in the car to get some “time off” you might need to adjust your internal expectations. Waiting for the police or locksmith is not the only way to get some “me time” during the holidays!

Expectations are internal messages that control our behavior and thought processes. Expectations at their core are neutral. We all have expectations; that is normal. We expect courtesy and manners from others and feel slighted when it doesn’t happen.

We all want joyful holidays, but sometimes family drama can get in the way.

Expectations Are Not Bad

We expect that most people are doing their best with the time and resources available. For example: Think of airline staff: pilots, attendants, and support staff. They are all doing their best with the policy, rules, and regulations in their industry. Even if we get frustrated with the outcome, we generally believe they are doing their best.

Holiday Season Stress Might Mean You Are Expecting Too Much

So it’s not that having expectations is wrong; the problem is when we use unrealistic expectations against ourselves. And for most women, the holiday season can be a circus of anxiety and disappointment. Family drama builds, and then BOOM!! Another celebration ruined by yelling or unspoken resentment.

Believe it or not, most of our unrealistic expectations began in childhood. We can all agree that our parents and important caregivers taught us how to love and receive love in return. Every family has emotional messages that can be confusing and, as a result, lead to unhealthy patterns. Sometimes we grow out of our family’s expectations, and other times, we don’t realize the damage it does to our adult lives.

Expectations of Women During the Holidays

Many of us grew up seeing holiday celebrations that were perfectly prepared. What we didn’t notice was the exhaustion on our mom’s face as she plowed through one more batch of cookies and made sure she checked all the guidelines on the classroom gift exchange!

With so many expectations to meet and so many people to please that it can feel overwhelming! By the time we reach middle age, our family’s framework might have changed. Divorce, re-marriage, and adult kids all become part of the planning challenge. Blended families, adult children living on their own, and even those with close-knit families, the holiday season can be a challenging time for everyone.

Family drama can make you feel sad and empty during the holidays.

The Holidays Are Hard, Stop Comparing!


Don’t get caught in the trap of comparison! You might have heard that fantastic quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy” (attributed to Theodore Roosevelt and/or Dr. Ray Cummings).

When we compare, we choose to make ourselves feel bad intentionally. We already know that the holiday season can be stressful and emotional for most women. Do yourself a favor and learn to manage your expectations.

Family drama can drain your energy and make the holiday a never-ending punishment. Remember, all families have problems! Every family has a black sheep; all families have people that seem to specialize in rude questions; we all come from a background of “dys-fun-ction!”

Make Room For Acceptance

Try your best to accept and neutralize the annoying family behaviors. When you let go of comparison, we can make room for acceptance. We all have a vision of what the perfect holiday should look like, but this can lead to disappointment and frustration when reality doesn’t match up. Instead, focus on being present in the moment and finding joy in the little things.

Holidays Are Depressing For Some People

Dealing With Memory Triggers

For middle age women, the holiday season can be a time for emotional reflection. If you have an “empty nest,” it’s normal for you to become overwhelmed with nostalgia for days gone by. Watching your kids grow into healthy adults is gratifying, but it can cause feelings of loss and sometimes sadness. For some women, there is a real sense of grief as their children leave the home. Holidays can bring up feelings of loneliness and melancholy.

Empty Nest Holidays

When adult children leave home, it can be challenging for parents to relinquish control and give them the independence they need to form their holiday traditions. Parents may feel like their children are becoming distant or lonely when in reality, the adult child values their independence. The truth is, you’ve finally adjusted to them leaving the nest, the holidays roll around, and they’re back with newfound independence and opinions!

Side note to adult kids: Please clearly communicate your needs to your parents and find a balance for both parties. Make sure everyone knows what your holiday plans are in advance, and take time to involve both sides in the festivities. It’s critical to develop your independence, but please be mindful of your parent’s desire to spend some holiday time with you.

Empty Nest parents, please remember that these feelings are normal! Managing your expectations around sharing holidays with adult kids can help balance your emotions.

Setting Boundaries With Family

Creating Enjoyable Family Gatherings

One of the biggest pain points for women during the holidays is the stress of meeting everyone’s needs and expectations. It is crucial to set boundaries early on to avoid bringing unwanted drama to the holiday (i.e., appropriate gift-giving, length of stay, etc.). Communication and clarity are essential. Give yourself permission to share your needs and clearly state your limits.  

Ensure that everyone is clear on what the holiday activities are and who will be attending to avoid any surprises. Plan activities that are inclusive and fun for everyone involved. Remember, the overall goal should be to have fun, share love, and create lasting memories as a family.

Skipping activities that you don’t enjoy is a healthy boundary. It’s okay to focus your time on things you enjoy.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

There has been so much talk lately about the concept of boundaries. Boundaries are essential in relationships. They help others learn how to treat us, guided by our reasonable and clear expectations. Boundaries should not be designed to punish other people; the goal is to allow you to prevent yourself from being controlled by others’ whims and desires.

They’re like invisible fences for your peace of mind. They may not keep out your cousin’s unsolicited advice or your in-law’s judgmental looks, but they could be your ticket to a more peaceful holiday gathering.

Commit to setting emotional and mental boundaries to protect your peace of mind during the festivities. You can be pretty sure that family drama will pop up somewhere, but you can manage it better with your boundaries securely in place.

Here are a few tips:

  • 1. Be clear about your holiday plans and limits. If you can’t host this year, or can only manage a smaller gathering, communicate this early on.
  • 2. Don’t feel obligated to engage in every conversation. It’s okay to politely excuse yourself from a heated debate about politics or Aunt Sally’s critique of your stuffing recipe.
  • 3. Remember, it’s okay to say ‘no.’ If Secret Santa gives you anxiety, or if participating in the family talent show makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to sit out.
Schedule some time alone to help you handle the family drama during the holidays.

Consider setting some ground rules. Maybe it’s a “no politics at the dinner table” rule or a “let’s not tease each other” rule. Whatever it is, make sure you communicate it gently but firmly. Remember, boundaries aren’t just about keeping things out and letting the good stuff in.

Finally, how about some more suggestions to help manage family drama? It never hurts to be prepared with extra acceptance and compassion during the holidays.

How To Deal With Family Drama During the Holidays

A Quick Q&A

1. Why do family dramas seem to escalate during the holidays?

It’s not just you; family tensions do often seem to amp up during the holiday season, and it’s generally due to a mix of high expectations, stress, and the unique dynamics of each family. Remember, we’re all human and come with our quirks. Add in the pressure to create the ‘perfect’ holiday, and it can be a recipe for drama!

2. How do I manage the pressures of the holidays?

Forget the idea of a perfect holiday; it’s a myth, like unicorns or calorie-free chocolate. Focus instead on what makes you and your loved ones happy. Maybe that’s cutting back on gift-giving, opting for a simple meal over a lavish feast, or skipping certain traditions. Remember, friend; it’s your holiday too!

3. How can I set boundaries to avoid family drama?

Setting clear boundaries is crucial to maintaining peace. This could mean limiting specific topics of conversation, designating private spaces for guests, or setting clear start and end times for gatherings. Don’t forget that your feelings and comfort matter too!

4. What if someone in my family refuses to respect the boundaries?

Stay calm and assertive. Reiterate your boundaries and explain why they’re important. If they continue to disrespect your reasonable requests, it may be necessary to limit their involvement in your holiday celebrations. Please remember that we don’t use boundaries to punish people; we use them to invite others into our life as we wish.

5. How can I handle holiday traditions that cause tension?

It’s okay to let go of traditions that cause more stress than joy. Consider creating new traditions that everyone can enjoy. Remember, the most important thing is that you’re spending time together, not how you’re doing it. If there is a tradition that feels awkward or painful, speak up and let the family know that you will be skipping that activity. There is nothing wrong with choosing to limit your commitments and activities.

Creating Your Holiday Magic

Truthfully, the holidays are what you make of them. You can’t control your family’s actions, but you can control your reactions! So, take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, and remember to enjoy the merry moments amidst the mayhem.

Choosing to manage your expectations of yourself while allowing others to be themselves might take reduce some of the family drama. Creating boundaries that help you feel prepared for uncomfortable conversations or rude questions will ease your anxiety.

Stay strong, keep your sense of humor, and remember, this too shall pass. Here’s to a holiday season filled with less drama and more joy!

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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