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13_homespun.jpgBy Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson, R.N., and Ted Hagen, Ph.D.

RISMEDIA, Jan. 3, 2009-(MCT)-Are you still reeling from the stress of entertaining relatives over the holidays? Maybe you wonder if the cooking, shopping, and onslaught of kinfolk was worth it.

Every family has its lineup of dysfunctional characters. Every family has tension that will seep through the cracks during the holidays.

A sense of humor, plus knowing all other families are going through the same tension, will help to keep you sane.

“What’s predictable is that truth will prevail during holidays,” says a psychologist we’ll call Angie. “For good or evil, truth shows up and smacks everyone in the face.”

Angie gave her own family as an example. “Some of my family members are jealous of each other, so they pick and prod at each other during Christmas. I can feel the heat before I pull into Mom’s driveway.”

Angie is right. Holidays are the perfect time for what we call the Absolute Truth to come calling.

If your younger brother feels anger toward your father, for example, this tension is going to play around the house. It will invade the conversation.

Or, if your mother thinks your cooking isn’t quite good enough, leave it up to Mom to give you a few digs. Your store bought pies may draw her criticism.

However, every family we’ve ever known has the same issues.

Here are a few coping tools to cool your pain:

– Keep everything in perspective. Realize that a little craziness doesn’t mean love isn’t in place. Brothers can quarrel and still love each other.
– Realize that time heals. For example, if your uncle tells an off-color joke in front of your son’s new girlfriend, time will take care of the awkward moment. Resist the temptation to disown your uncle.
– You can choose your reactions. For example, if money was tight this year, you probably scaled back on gifts. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, give thanks you could afford gifts at all.

“I was walking the floor worrying about the holidays,” says a man we’ll call Rex. “I had 12 relatives coming on Christmas Eve. Money is tight since I lost my job two months ago.”

Rex told us he had to think fast on gift giving. “Imagine my stress when I realized I could only give my five young nephews a very small gift each! I love these boys like they are my own.”

Rex decided he’d get creative.

“I typed up slips of paper stating each boy was invited to camp with me in the summer of 2009,” Rex explains. He invited their parents along as well.

“I explained to the kids that money was tight, since I’d lost my job,” Rex continues, “but, I told them that my devotion to them is limitless.”

If your Christmas experience was really bad, remember that you need to wash away that negative energy.

Examine your own heart to make sure you don’t carry envy, hate, greed, or feelings of vindictiveness.

“I used to feel like I’d been baptized with sewer water,” says a friend of ours who works in our building. We’ll call her Peggy.

“Every Christmas,” says Peggy, “my brother would remind everyone that I was a spoiled brat as a child.”

Peggy learned to use humor to dispel her anger.

“I practiced some good come-backs that were funny but not mean spirited in any way,” says Peggy. “I decided the meaner my brother got, the funnier I would make my jokes.”

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, “Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress.” Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

For more information, visit

© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune News Service.