‘Tis the season for preparation of ALL things holiday-related, including but not limited to greeting card design, addressing, and mailing; inquiring about gift ideas, gift list-ing, and gift purchasing, wrapping, and delivering; baking approximately a dozen varieties—not total count--of candies, cookies, and other treats; orchestrating holiday meals, inviting family/friends for these meals, shopping for food items, preparing and serving those meals; remembering each and every single human who has provided you a service in the last 12 months, deciding on a special gift for said human, purchasing the gift, and delivering the gift; etc. etc. etc…..And wait, I’m ALSO supposed to feel a sense of holiday spirit, comfort and joy?!? Are you getting heart palpitations reading this? I know I am just writing it! Perhaps you are among the men and women (ok, mostly women, let’s face reality) who are somehow designated to be Julie, the Love Boat Social Director, year after year after year. And it’s unlikely that this unchosen role occurs ONLY during the holiday season. More likely, somewhere along the line it became understood that you LOVE remembering all the birthdays and anniversaries, planning all the work retirement parties, and arranging all the children’s (or dogs’) playdates. How did this happen, you ask? There is a long, sociological explanation for this phenomenon of “kinship work”, or as my cousin calls it “emotional labor”, but this is a blog, not an academic journal or long text thread, so suffice it to say that most of us are socialized from the time we are children to adopt a gender-based role, modeled by our caregivers, lest we suffer guilt and shame for forgetting Auntie Gladys’ 97th birthday.
AND IT’S EXHAUSTING! Physically, mentally, and emotionally. In time, we begin to feel the weight of all these norm-based “responsibilities”, the stress of remembering, planning, and pleasing has long since lost any feeling of reward and satisfaction, and frequently leads to frustration and resentment that others aren’t stepping up. And let’s face it, even the most well-intentioned partner cannot know all you manage when you seem to “do it all”, magically, and with a smile covering that clenched jaw. Further, your partner likely also observed a caregiver do the exact same kinship work, and has never been let in on the little secret of all that is involved all while managing a household, paid labor outside the home, friendships, extended family responsibilities, and on and on. How do we proceed to either make the empowering choice to a) let go of some of the responsibilities and accept that we may feel a temporary—but not eternal—feeling of guilt or b) ask for assistance from a partner or child so that we do not venture into a more volatile, non-choice to c) explode in into an expletive-filled stream of accusations and emotional reactivity? If you are considering choice B (asking for assistance), then please read on for some insights I’ve arranged from various sources to help things flow a bit more smoothly.
Some terrific and objective strategies for asking for what you need or desire, whether it is assistance with kinship work or just an extra hand around the house, are derived from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and its creator Dr. Marsha Linehan. The acronym DEAR MAN (no pun intended, promise!) is a great way to remember some useful strategies, bearing in mind that though we may not always get what we want and/or need from our partner or children, we can feel empowered by expressing ourselves clearly and concisely:
Describe what you want, concretely and clearly. Instead of “Would you help with holiday prep?”, say, “Could you address and stamp these envelopes for holiday cards?”
Express how the situation makes you feel by clearly expressing those feelings without thinking that others are mind-readers who cannot take a hint. Try “I feel____because____.”
Assert exactly what you want to say rather than beating around the bush or sugar-coating. Instead of “Well, I don’t know if I can drive the kids to that party on Saturday”, say, “I won’t be available to run the kids around on Saturday because I need to catch up on some work.”
Reinforce positive outcomes by rewarding those who respond well! A “thank you” or a smile can do the job! And heck, positively responding to and following through on others’ requests also reinforce your own positive outcomes.
Mindfully remain present in your communication; it’s easy to get sidetracked, especially if the other party is not feeling it, gets a little defensive, or brings up the past in order to change the focus. Dr. Rick Hanson recommends listening to the other party without interruption, and then offering to either take turns in 1 minute each intervals of uninterrupted speech, or simply validating their concerns but asserting your desire to revisit that conversation at a later time.
Appear confident and consider your posture, tone, and eye contact and body language. Tone and attitude cannot be stressed enough…think “requests” rather than “demands”.
Negotiate when you can’t achieve 100% of your initially desired outcome. As the Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want,” so be open to negotiation. Try “if I run and purchase the kids’ gifts this year, will you gift wrap them?”
These are great first steps in effective, interpersonal communication and may also help improve your own enjoyment of the holiday season. But it isn’t always easy to ask for what we need from others, as many of us weren’t raised believing that our requests are valid or worthy of attention. Those can be tough thoughts to unhook from, and learning how to navigate our needs and express them confidently can also be daunting. And sometimes, as mentioned, we just can’t control the outcome or get what we desire, and so learning acceptance of “what is” can be quite valuable. If this resonates with you and your situation, Fresh Air Counseling can help you explore some of those thought patterns and emotional reactions in initiating movement toward more fulfilling communications and relationships, greater self-compassion, and insights into personal and professional purpose and life meaning. Contact us today to schedule a FREE telephone consultation and to begin cultivating change toward a more vital and valued life direction.