Navigating Difficult Conversations with Familia During the Holidays

Family time is around the corner and with that, the overwhelm of uncomfortable questions is beginning to set in

Holidays familia difficult conversations

Photo: Pexels/Nicole Michalou

The holidays are quickly approaching. The Christmas tree is finally up and you’ve gone to every store you can think of looking for the perfect holiday decor. The candles are burning and the cozy atmosphere is set. As you smile and begin to reflect on what the next month will look like, a sudden wave of stress and anxiety overwhelms you. You feel a pit in your stomach and suddenly, what was once a happy and exciting time has become a source of dread. Family time is around the corner and with that, the overwhelm of uncomfortable questions is beginning to set in.

Within my work, I support many Latinas who struggle with boundaries especially amongst family members. As women, we have been conditioned to look the other way or stay quiet in moments of discomfort or distress. We have grown up in enmeshed environments where la tia is like a second mother and your cousins are practically your siblings. This dynamic has allowed anyone and everyone to have an opinion about everything and has given free reign to ask any question that comes to mind. Nothing seems to be off limits. The term “delicada” is very much present because if you don’t like something that is said or done, you are being “too much”. This is why I support Latinas who struggle with boundaries and enmeshment as I often see myself within them. 

I have been called delicada or enojona throughout my life more times than I can count. I have been overly emotional during family gatherings during the holidays and would yell or cry depending on the circumstances. I didn’t have the language to describe the unmet need that I was experiencing and reflecting on it now, my feelings were hurt and I felt powerless. I needed my family to back off and let me be. 

I can remember moments throughout my life where I was asked uncomfortable questions or rude comments were said about me. While I would hear many of these things year round whenever I was around my immediate or extended family, it was particularly draining when I just wanted to enjoy myself during the holidays yet found myself anxious and exhausted. One particular comment that I remember hearing in my early adulthood was “se te va a pasar el tren” – referring to my maternal clock is ticking and if I don’t have children soon, the opportunity will pass – because I didn’t have children yet. Now, I often get asked about a second child when I still have a baby. 

Other common comments that I’ve heard are usually around weight or relationships. Things like “y el novio?” because I didn’t have a boyfriend or the question about when we are getting married if I did bring a boyfriend around. I would get praised when I lost some weight or criticized when I was a few pounds heavier, constantly reminded that I needed to lose weight to find a boyfriend or keep one. There were frowns if I served myself a plate at the dinner table and side-eye looks when I reached over for seconds.  No one was ever satisfied and ultimately I was left with feelings of guilt and shame. 

If this sounds familiar, I get you, I hear you, and I see you. These messages are exhausting and thankfully there are a few things that you can do to help as you explore the best course of action to take for yourself during this holiday season. 

1. Set Boundaries:

I know, I know, boundaries can be hard especially when it comes to family. Remember, boundaries are the limits you are setting for yourself – what YOU are okay with and NOT okay with. It can be challenging to set boundaries with family members as it can be seen as disrespectful but remember, there is opportunity for dialogue here.  Remain calm when challenged and remind yourself that you cannot control other peoples’ reactions, only your own. Others might find your boundaries difficult and that is okay. Some might lash out and that may be coming from a place of discomfort. With time, these boundaries might feel more manageable for you to implement and others to receive. 

Before heading into family gatherings, establish clear boundaries for yourself (afterall, they are for you!) Decide in advance which topics are off-limits and practice assertive responses (in the mirror!). For example, if someone asks about your relationship status, say something like, “I’m focusing on myself right now, and when there’s something to share, you’ll be the first to know.”  Keep your cool as this is part of breaking generational cycles. 

2. Redirect the Conversation:

Steer conversations away from uncomfortable topics by redirecting them to more neutral subjects. Share positive things of your life or ask about how others are doing, shifting the focus away from potentially triggering questions. Protecting your peace is key!

3. Practice Mindfulness:

Embrace mindfulness techniques to stay present and centered during hard conversations. Take deep breaths, focus on the present moment, and ground yourself in the reality that your worth is not determined by others expectations. Something helpful could be going to the bathroom, running cold water on your hands and talking to yourself in the mirror. Remind yourself that you are enough. 

4. Identify your Secure Squad:

Identify family members who understand how you feel and can provide support during uncomfortable moments. Having supportive people around can make a significant difference while navigating challenging interactions. Call them beforehand and share how they can support you. Remember, we all need someone. 

5. Educate and Communicate:

If you feel comfortable, take the opportunity to educate your family about how certain questions or comments affect you. Share your feelings and help them understand how it can be hurtful. Clear communication can foster empathy and reduce the likelihood of repeat incidents. There’s no guarantees, but you are planting the seed and hopefully with time, it will grow. 

6. Prioritize Self-Care:

Recognize the importance of self-care during the holiday season. Take breaks when needed, engage in activities that bring you joy, and prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. Setting aside time for self-care can help you navigate difficult conversations with a clearer mindset. Remember, anything can be self-care so long as it makes sense for you. 

7. Seek Mental Health Support:

If the challenges persist or become overwhelming, seeking the guidance of a mental health professional can bring a great amount of awareness and insight. A therapist can provide coping strategies and support for your specific situation. A great place to start is Latinx Therapy or Inclusive Therapists.
As Latinas, we have the power to redefine our holiday experiences by asserting our boundaries and prioritizing our well-being. By implementing these strategies, we can navigate uncomfortable conversations with resilience, fostering an environment where holiday gatherings become an opportunity for celebration, connection, and self-empowerment. This holiday season, let us embrace the strength within us and celebrate on our terms.

Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals

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