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Navigating the family dynamic for the holidays

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Every person in your family grows up trying to find what type of familial role they might fit best. Some examples could be the overachiever, the one who gets away with everything, the helping hand, or the one who grows up too fast and takes care of everyone else. The same goes for parents and the many different parenting styles—helicopter parents, hands-off parents, and more. These roles help shape how we view and interact with our families, but they can also be unlearned once we leave home and start lives or families of our own.

However, even as adults, there is a tendency to regress to old behaviors and roles when visiting with families. While this isn’t inherently unhealthy, there are ways it may be. “When adult children find themselves in familiar situations, they find themselves also experiencing the same feelings they had before,” says Darcey Meredith, Vice President of Child Services at Centerstone. “Parents may also have a hard time seeing their adult children as fully realized adults and may project feelings of dependency onto them.”

These regressions must be managed to keep each family member healthy, happy, and at peace with each other during the holiday season.

Be aware of your own tendencies

The most important way to manage these regressions is by checking in with yourself. See if you are slipping back into old behaviors that should have changed by now.

  • If you used to rarely help with chores, ask yourself if you are avoiding offering to help.
  • If you used to always be in control, ask yourself if you are doing too much to organize things now.
  • If you used to constantly criticize others, try to remember that you are only responsible for your choices and behaviors.

If you find yourself behaving as you did in the past, take some time to remind yourself that circumstances and people have changed. Think about why you may be acting a certain way and assess the validity of it. On the other hand, some of these regressions may not be harmful or unhealthy to experience. For example, it’s good to enjoy your mom’s home cooking or play a game of basketball with your dad.

Be patient with each other

While you may be working hard to stay mindful of your own regressions, others may not be. Try to communicate with loved ones about old behaviors and expectations. While it may not be easy, use the tips below and think about how you may help your family members grow and better care for each other.

  • Learn how to pick your battles. Some parents or family members have an increasingly difficult time acknowledging change.
  • Try to avoid projecting past feelings and expectations onto other loved ones.
  • Try not to allow old arguments to disturb the peace.

It may be helpful to communicate frustration as long as it’s done from a place of humility, acknowledging your own challenges with fighting regression and expectations. “Sometimes humor can help keep the mood light,” says Meredith. “You might respond with, ‘I know, mom – I’ve been living independently for 20 years now,’ with a wink and a lighthearted tone.”

Not everyone will adjust to the family dynamic quickly, so giving people the time and space they need is important.

If you or someone you know is experiencing increased mental health challenges during the holidays, Centerstone can help. Call us at 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) to learn more about our counseling services.



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