Navigating the family dynamic for the holidays

mother daughter hugging on bench

Every person grows up fitting themselves into some type of familial role. This could be the overachiever, the one who got away with everything, the helping hand and the one who grew up too fast to take care of the rest. The same goes for parents and their parenting styles: helicopter parents, hands-off parents, etc. These roles shape how we view our families, but can be broken away from once we leave home and live on our own or with families of our own.

However, even when children are fully functioning adults, they have tendencies to regress into old behaviors and roles when they are brought back together with their families. While this isn’t inherently unhealthy, there are ways it can be.

“When adult children find themselves in familiar situations, they find themselves also experiencing the same feelings they had before,” says Darcey Meredith, VP for 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 and at peace with each other.


Be aware of your own tendencies

The most important way to manage these regression 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 be the youngest sibling who rarely helped with chores, ask yourself if you are avoiding offering your help now.
  • If you are the oldest sibling who always wanted to be in control, ask yourself if you are doing too much to organize things now.
  • If you are a parent and you find yourself constantly criticizing your adult kids, try to remember that you are not responsible for their choices.

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. It will feel unnatural after 18 or so years of rehearsal, but you may need to adjust your perceived role.

On the other hand, some regressions may even not even be negative. It’s a good thing to enjoy your mom’s home cooking or play a game of basketball with your dad. Simply try to think about how you can go out of your way to help ease the burden of caring for the whole family.


Be patient with each other

While you may be working hard to stay mindful of your own regressions, others may not be. Try to be patient with them and understand where they are coming from.

  • Some parents feel they need to take care of their kids no matter how old they are, so it may be helpful to let them.
  • Don’t project past feelings and expectations on your adult children.
  • Try not to let old arguments disturb the peace.

It can be helpful to communicate frustration as long as it’s done from a place of humility, acknowledging your own challenges fighting regression and expectations. “Sometimes humor can help keep the mood light,” says Darcey 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 it is important to give people the time they need to do so.


If the holidays have you experiencing increased mental health challenges, Centerstone is here to help. You can call us at 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) to get connected with care.

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