Going home for the holidays is always interesting and often complicated. It can also be exciting yet dreadful. Why? Because it’s that one time of the year that creates a lot of expectations. You’re expected to get together as a family and have a great time.

Are you dreading going home for the holidays because you lose yourself as soon as you step into your parents’ home?

Do you suddenly feel like you’re 10 years old even though you may be a parent yourself or a successful business person?

You’re expected to easily reconnect with family members whom you haven’t seen for a while. And you’re expected to relive old traditions that may no longer work. And if that weren’t enough, sometimes a mini-identity crisis develops, creating an almost unbearable situation with family during the holiday celebration.

Going home for the holidays can trigger a mini-identity crisis. How does this happen?

You’re still the child to your parents, but you’re also a responsible adult in your own world…and your parents could still be treating you as the child who they think needs their direction, advice, and discipline.

It’s no wonder you don’t stand a chance to be your own person in the face of your parents’ agenda.  Just the thought of going home for the holidays could evoke intense feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and anger.

going home for the holidaysHow do you mix these two worlds and have your parents see you as the adult you are and not the kid from yesteryear? 

If you are going home for the holidays try these five specific strategies to help you deal with your parents and remain an adult by not regressing to childhood habits that could actually be feeding your parents’ old picture of you:

1. Unresolved issues with your family won’t magically disappear because it’s the holidays.  Expect this pattern to play out again and prepare yourself to do something different. 

For example, if your Mom starts criticizing how you’ve been conducting your life, rather than feeling bad, calmly but directly say, “Mom, I’m grown up now, and I may be making some mistakes, but I’ll deal with them should they happen.”

2.  If you’ve never taken a stand with your parents, how do they know there’s a problem? It’s up to you to let them know. They may be more understanding than you think and might even welcome your insights into the issue. 

It may take some time for them to change once they understand how you’re feeling, so don’t get discouraged if they slip and you have to remind them several times. Change doesn’t happen over night and you may not see the fruits of your labor until going home for the holidays next year.

3. If you have trouble holding your own with your parents, elicit the help of a buddy in advance of the event. Your buddy could be a close sibling who will be attending the holiday dinner and understands your issue. 

Talk with them about what you need when your parents start treating you like a kid. Maybe you’d like them to stand up for you when you’re having a difficult time expressing yourself. There is strength in numbers, and your parents may be more willing to hear your point of view through another person.

4. Before going home for the holidays, give yourself a pep talk by saying: “I’m not a kid. I’m an adult who deserves to be treated with respect by my family. I am not afraid to be who I am and will express my opinions and views to my parents should the opportunity present itself.” Then muster up the courage to act accordingly and create a new family system.

Your parents may not take you seriously or may even feel threatened by the new you, because you’re challenging the homeostasis of the system and they’re uncomfortable with change.  But that’s normal. They may even react with wise cracks to challenge your new role.

Respond by not reacting as if you were still a kid. Let them know you understand why it may be hard, but it’s time to interact differently. The more you act like an adult, the easier it gets for everybody.

5. If you feel like you’re unable to stand up to your parents and are really anxious about going through the same scenario this year, get help by seeing a good therapist who will help you understand exactly what’s happening, with tools to deal effectively with the situation.

New patterns take time to form so be patient with yourself and your family.

You’ve planted the seeds, so let them grow, and perhaps going home for the holidays next year will be less stressful.

Sharon RivkinAlso known as the “last ditch effort therapist,” Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight.

Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide.

She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the “Resident Shrink” on Coach Ron Tunick’s radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM.

Please visit www.SharonRivkin.com for more information on how you can stay sane going home for the holidays.