Most of us expect holidays to be joyful times -- but they don't always turn out that way. The Saluda Center in Rock Hill offers counseling to help people work through family issues. The Herald asked The Rev. Dr. Guy Shealy to discuss common issues and share his advice.
Why can holidays be tough for families?
Some families haven't talked out some of their issues, and sometimes there's a lot of things that are unsaid. So what happens is, people sometimes have to be happy when they're not really happy, so they pretend.
What type of problems are the most common?
A lot of anxiety related to real tension and a lot of people doing things they don't want to do. We've got to pack up our stuff and go see Grandma, and we've got to go have lunch and see the other grandma. Not learning to say, "No, this is not what I want to do."
What do you tell couples who are struggling with how to divide their time between two families?
It's OK to say, "Mom and Dad, I'm not going to do that this year; we're going to do something different." It's about figuring out how to emotionally leave their families of origin to really get married to another person -- being able to claim one's own life and say, "This is how I want to live." A lot of times that's hard, especially if parents don't want to give up their children.
You mentioned the importance of new couples making their own holiday traditions. How can they do that?
What they have to do is take a little bit from both their family traditions to form their own new set.
How can divorced parents help their children deal with the family being split up for the holidays?
If the parents fight about it, the kids are not going to be OK. But if the parents can be OK with the divorce and make it work as well as possible, then the kids will typically be OK. It's all about the parents -- it's about how they get along or don't get along with the ex-spouse.
Any advice for families dealing with loss?
Holidays the first year are really tough. You must do something to remember the person you lost, kind of a special thing. Celebrate that life in some way. It becomes a vehicle to grief. It's important to grieve, at least the first year.