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Transcript – Managing Family Dysfunction During the Holiday Season With Trakida Maldonado

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Managing Family Dysfunction During the Holiday Season With Trakida Maldonado



[0:00:03] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 447 of Live Happy Now. What would the holiday season be without a little family dysfunction? Well, actually, nobody knows. But this week’s guest wants to help us find out. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And today I’m sitting down with Trakida Maldonado. A licensed professional counselor with Sondermind who has more than a decade of clinical experience. She’s joining me to talk about why our mental health takes such a hit during the holidays and the role that families play in increasing our holiday anxiety and conflict. Then she’ll tell us what we can do about it. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:42] PF: Trakida, thank you for sitting down with me today.


[0:00:46] TM: Thank you, Paula, for having me.


[0:00:47] PF: This is a fun time to talk because it’s the holiday season and it is a really challenging time for a lot of people. I guess to kick things off, can you talk about why our mental health takes such a hit during the holiday season?


[0:01:01] TM: Well, Paula, as you and I all know that during the holidays we are expected to just have so many – so many people have expectations of us. Our family, our children, nieces, nephews. During that time is already a very stressful time mind. And when we bring in traditions around that, it can create a lot of negative emotions and stress. That is why, during the holiday season, it’s very, very stressful for so many individuals because there is so much that. It’s put on us all at one time.


[0:01:36] PF: Yeah. And we’ve also got that end of the year coming up. If you’re in business, a lot of times, it becomes a very busy time there too because people are trying to get things wrapped up for the end of the year.


[0:01:48] TM: Absolutely. Business closing out the year. Work is extremely busy. As we all know, everyone is shorthanded as far as manpower. It’s a lot of different things that is put upon us during the holidays. And to include that we’re talking about family. A lot of family time. And that adds on another stressor.


[0:02:13] PF: Yeah. And as we talk about that, how does the perception that we need to create this perfect holiday just add to that stress and kind of make it worse? Because a lot of people do. They try to create the ideal holiday. They want Christmas to look like a Christmas card. They want everything about the holiday season to just be perfect. And what does that pressure do to us?


[0:02:37] TM: Well, for many of us, unfortunately, those traditions that everyone expects of us, it causes a lot of stress. Rather we’re having issues in our relationship. Or it can be things that’s going on in work or with our children. And so, at that time, we’re trying to actually create this love and happiness during this holiday season. And we have so many other things that’s going on. And it can really affect our mental health.


And so, because of that, we face so many challenges during the holidays and the seasons of just everyone being happy and wanting you to be happy. Taking these pictures with family members and seeing family we haven’t seen in a while. We have to protect our mental health during that time. It’s very, very important for us to do that.


I’m a licensed therapist and I see a lot of different people during the holidays because of the stress that holidays bring. And we go through different coping skills and things that can be done to kind of minimize the stress of the holidays.


[0:03:41] PF: That’s great. I want to dive into a few different scenarios that are kind of common that people might be going through and talk about those. Because, first of all, can we talk about – you kind of alluded to it. Sometimes relationships are not going well and you still have to see their family. You still have to take him to see your family. It’s not comfortable. And you’re trying to present something that’s great for the sake of the kids. You don’t want to ruin their holidays. How do we do that? If we are in a relationship, it’s not going well, maybe we’re not even going to continue that relationship after the New Year. What do we do kind of get through that and make it more comfortable for everybody? Including ourselves.


[0:04:23] TM: Well – and I’m glad you brought that point up, Paula. Because one of the things that we have to automatically do is acknowledge our feelings. We’re typically so busy putting on a face for everyone else and making everyone else happy that we tend to not acknowledge our own feelings.


And so, we want to make the holidays great during that time. And it’s, again, like you say, for the family and the family members that are all looking and not even possibly knowing the stress that you’re dealing with. And acknowledging your feelings and knowing, “Hey, this is the holiday time. And during this time, I know that we are not in a good place, but I am putting on the best face that I can for our families.” However, we can’t minimize how we’re feeling within.


We can still smile but we need to acknowledge we’re not in a good place. I know I need to acknowledge that instead of acting like everything is okay. It makes it a lot easier to get through those times. And remember that your feelings are valid. Whatever you may be going through.


And I can speak from personal experience. I was married for 25 years. And towards the end, I knew during the holidays we were going to visit family. And that was going to be very difficult. However, what I decided to do was acknowledge my feelings. I set certain expectations during that time. And I was very, very clear and strategic about what would be talked about and what we would discuss why we were with family. And it made a difference. It made me feel a lot better. And again, that comes from validating your feelings. It’s so important that we do that during this time.


[0:06:02] PF: That’s great advice. I love that. And then, also, we’re dealing with extended family. And when we have children, that can be even more challenging. Because I see a lot of people being pulled to meet the expectations of grandparents and extended families. Every grandparent wants to have the kids there for Christmas morning or whatever their tradition is. And frankly, the children they’re doing it for are exhausted by the end of the holidays.


As a parent, how do you set boundaries without causing a World War because? This is the way the family’s always done it. How do you kind of carve out your place to protect your family time and to make sure the children actually have a good holiday season?


[0:06:45] TM: That goes back to adjusting your expectations. Strategizing what you’re going to do. Talking about it with your partner or just making sure that you have a plan. How long do you plan on spending when you’re visiting maybe your in-laws or grandparent? Discuss exactly how much time you going to spend with that person in a conversation.


And it’s very, very important that you and your partner or your significant other, if you all are talking about this, have some sort of hand gestures, or some sort of wink, or something that you all can stay on track. Adjusting your expectations and strategizing prior makes a huge difference.


Remember, what we have to do is set boundaries. The kids are being pulled in different directions is exhausting for the children and everyone. You strategize and say, “Hey, we’re only going to spend two hours with our in-laws.” And you make sure that you go by that and have that boundary.


And you said it from the beginning, we are going to be here for this amount of time. Remember, we can’t make everyone happy. And the holidays are so stressful in itself. We all come from totally different walks of life. I mean, my family, I’m going to see them for Christmas. And they may be listening to this podcast today. And I’m not really looking forward to five whole days with my entire family.


[0:08:06] PF: Well, you know what? If you say enough about them, you might not get five whole days with them.


[0:08:10] TM: Well, you know, Paula, you would think. But I doubt it. They would torture me just on purpose at that point. But it’s very, very important that we understand it. We just set some expectations and have boundaries. And I think that is keeping things healthy for yourself and for your family. And those boundaries are just important during the holidays. And they’re important anyway. But if you set those boundaries early on before the holidays arrive, making the decision early. Where are we going to be attending? Or how long we’re going to attend someone’s home?


People will understand, especially when you’ve made this decision, and they know prior to the event. Or you’re telling them that once you arrive, “Hey, we’re only going to be here for this amount of time.” Again, managing boundaries, healthy boundaries, to continuously get you through the holidays with less stress and also for your family to not be as stressed out as well.


[0:09:06] PF: I love that. Because we tend to think of this as just kind of an organic thing. We’re going to show up and we’ll leave when we leave. Or when they’re done with us or what have you. But it really does require a solid strategy to get through with your mental health and your energy intact.


[0:09:22] TM: Absolutely. It’s setting those healthy boundaries. Because like you say, you end up somewhere. You’re there for hours. And now, these conversations that you’re not – someone is pushing your buttons and giving advice that they’re not experts in it. And so, it’s very, very important to set those boundaries. And again, you’re not going to make everyone happy, but it keeps your mental health intact. And also, it helps with the family overall because your family in itself is happy. That was enough time with grandma, or grandpa, or in-laws, mother, father, whoever. But I think it’s very important to have those boundaries already set prior. And it really makes you feel a lot better going into the holiday.


[0:10:07] PF: Yeah. It does. And that’s a great plan to have. But what happens if you have your plan, and you’re there and then things go off the rails? Your spouse says, “No. Honey. Let’s just go ahead and stay for a couple more hours. Because mom really wants us here.” Something like that. What do you do? How do you correct things if someone’s trying to change it in the moment? And it could be too, say, one of the grandmas is like, “Well, oh, no. Can’t you just stay a little longer? I’m so disappointed.” They kind of start using some of the guilt things. How do you handle it in the moment if you’ve already set the boundaries? You have a strategy and someone is now contesting it.


[0:10:45] TM: That’s the anticipation of conflict. And that’s the worst part of it.


[0:10:51] PF: You know there are cases where it’s coming. And someone is out there listening saying, “Yeah, we can try that. Wink-wink.”


[0:10:58] TM: Absolutely. Absolutely.


[0:10:58] PF: And it’s not going to happen.


[0:10:59] TM: Again, that is one of the reasons why setting these boundaries in place prior. Allowing these individuals to know this is what we – once you set that boundary, you must stick to it. And that’s not always comfortable. There needs to be a conversation prior. And that partner needs to understand that this is the boundary that we set. And we cannot allow someone else to talk us into doing something different.


Again, that is not always easy. But we have to set those boundaries and we have to really stand by them. Because other than that, we are putting ourselves in a position where we’re stressed out. And I get it, stress is normal. But it should not rule or ruin your health. And it should not be a time that you’re dreading the holidays. It’s supposed to be a time to enjoy.


Again, I stress the fact that boundaries are so important. And sometimes we’re like, “Well, this person’s not going to abide by my boundary.” Well, that is something that we have to work on.


[0:11:57] PF: One thing that’s pretty common for people is they have relatives that they’ve had prior conflict with. And for some reason, it’s going to bubble up either at the dinner table, or during drinks afterwards, or something like that. Two points that we want to make here is, first of all, how do you go into that situation? And then secondly, if you are there and it starts to occur again, what do you do?


[0:12:24] TM: That’s a good one, Paula. And I’ve heard that very, very often in my practice. And that is the time that we have to press pause. We have to press pause and we have to decide, “Hey, I need a timeout.” And I think it’s very important to express those feelings. And I’m really big on communication. Sometimes overly communicating. But you have those family members, and we all have them, that continuously just want to have these discussions that their opinions defer from politics and religion issues and views. And it can ruin the entire day that you’re spending with your family.


And one of the things to do a lot of times is to get up and ask for a moment. I just need a moment so I can get my thoughts together. Sometimes walking away. Disengaging in those conversations. A lot of times what we do is, because we get annoyed with the individual, we will say, “Well, we don’t engage in these conversations. Because they’re pointless. And we’re upset because these opinions are so different.” And it can derail very easily. But it’s important for us to just decide that I’m going to step away from this for a moment.


And when these conversations start, we disengage from them. There are certain conversations that we know that can go bad with particular family members. We disengage immediately before we even get ourselves in that. We don’t want to get angry and definitely open up a bag of worms and cause chaos at the family’s gathering.


[0:13:56] PF: Can you say I am going into a situation that didn’t go well last year? Or didn’t go well last time we were together. How do you go in and set boundaries? Maybe whoever’s hosting it. Or people who are attending and saying, “Look, I know we’ve had this conflict.” Because everyone knows, it’s the elephant in the room, right? Can you say, “Look, this has been a problem area for us before. Let’s agree not to discuss this.” Or how do you handle that if you know that’s –


[0:14:26] TM: Absolutely. I like what you said. I’m sorry. I love what you said about maybe having that conversation with who’s hosting the family gathering. Before you encounter these situations, it would be very helpful to encourage the family members or the family to put that out. That these are conversations that we won’t have. These particular subjects – or what happened last year, the year before last, they are off the table. We’re not having them.


Instead of getting angry, consider just opening a sentence of like, “We’re not having this – we’re not discussing religion this year.” Or we’re not discussing health care. Whatever it may be. Just put that out there very early on just to avoid that conflict.


Now that can be uncomfortable initially because it’s like everyone’s like, “Well, no one was talking about that.” I get it. But before we even go there, from what happened in previous years, this topic is totally off the table. We won’t discuss it. And if someone is hosting it and they’re open to saying, “Hey, this is what happened two years ago. Is it possible that you can put that out? You’re hosting the family event this year. Can you say, “Hey, these are the things that we’re not going to discuss. Because we want everyone to have a great time.” That is definitely something that can be done. I think that sometimes it’s very, very important, again, setting those boundaries and allowing everyone to know from the beginning this is not what we’re going to talk about. It would be very, very helpful. Especially if you have support from your family say, “I agree with you. We should not be talking about these particular topics.” And I think it’s very, very important that that is possibly discussed prior.


[0:16:05] PF: And then who’s in charge of – I don’t want to say monitoring it. But sometimes people will do it anyway. They’re still going to bring something up. Who’s in charge of saying, “Hey, remember? We’re not talking about that.”


[0:16:17] TM: Well, you know it goes back to, Paula, like we were talking about earlier. That is those families. We all have those particular family members.


[0:16:24] PF: Oh, yeah.


[0:16:26] TM: Will not stop. I can’t tell you the anxiety I feel about just having everyone in one location. Those are the moments where you have to make a decision. And what I mean by that is once you tell the person, “Hey, we’ve already discussed we’re not having this conversation.” If you walk away or disengage and they’re continuously, which we know this happen very often, that someone just will not avoid conflict, it may be time that you say, “You know what? For the sake of my mental health and my family, we’re not going to subject ourselves to this. Because I already see where this is going.”


And it may be one of those situations where you end up leaving early. Of course, you’re not trying to ruin a day. But what you’re not trying to do is be around family. Have a bad day. This thing – a lot of times when we have these issues during the holidays, I cannot tell you how many individuals I see early on in the beginning of the year that are so stressed out about what’s going to happen in the family.


I recently had someone for Thanksgiving. And basically, one of the kids found out dad did something really big for the other daughter and it became this huge fight. And it’s Thanksgiving. We have to disengage from those things. It may be one of those things where you say, “Well, I can tell that you want to continue with this conversation that’s going to create so much havoc. So, I’m going to leave. Or I’m going to disengage from this.”


And again, those are uncomfortable situations. But a lot of times, if we press pause, we walk away, we disengage. We come back and things can possibly be in a better place. But again, there is no blueprint to when we’re dealing with family.


[0:18:04] PF: Yeah.


[0:18:06] TM: We go in and we have these expectations. And we can sit here and say all day, “We’re going to have expectations and boundaries. And we’re only going to stay at the in-laws for 30 minutes or however we may go about it.” Truth be told, we only can do so much. Family is family. Family comes with a lot of dysfunction and a lot of times a lot of stress just dealing with them. However, it’s very important just to really try to stick to those boundaries that you create. But there is a strong possibility that someone is going to push over them. Someone is going to push the limit. But that’s when you have to definitely stand on what you believe. Stand on what you said and follow through. Because again, stress is normal. But it should not ruin or rule over your health and mess up the holidays. Because we have family members that are just not willing to participate in a healthy way.


[0:19:00] PF: Right. Right. We’ve managed to make the holidays sound like a horrible experience on this episode.


[0:19:08] TM: It actually can be. It actually can be very stressful.


[0:19:10] PF: Yeah, 100% can be. What’s one thing that you want people to remember? As they go into the holidays, how do we make sure that it is merry and bright as the saying says? And what can we do? What do you want them to keep front of mind?


[0:19:24] TM: Well, this is a season of gratitude. Throughout the holidays, always be gentle to yourselves, to others. We have these expectations around the holidays. And of course, we want it to be perfect and beautiful. And sometimes it doesn’t work that way. But this is a season of nothing but gratitude. And we have to remember that we are grateful for the families that we have, and the good, the bad, the ugly. And just focus more on just relaxing and enjoying the moment. We are all here on – we don’t know the time and hour when our time here on Earth will be gone. And we have to just love on the individuals that love on us.


And family, although we’re all different, it’s a great time to catch up with nieces, and nephews, and in-laws and our children. And just try to remember that this is really the season of happiness and it should be a happy time. Not always as happy. But if we can make the best out of it. Because we don’t get to really spend that much time with our families, extended families especially, throughout the year. We’re so busy. Focus on the good and try to relax and set those boundaries and stick to them as much as you can.


[0:20:37] PF: I love it. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. You gave us a lot to work with. I think we’ve given people a lot of information today. And I appreciate you sitting down and taking the time to do that.


[0:20:47] TM: Thank you so much, Paula. Thank you for having me. And you have a great day.




[0:20:56] PF: That was Trakida Maldonado talking about handling family dysfunction during the holidays. If you’d like to learn more about Trakida or read some columns on how to protect your mental health during the holiday season, just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.


That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Phelps reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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