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The Hope and Angst of Family During the Holidays

A rare pic of some members of my extended family sharing lunch together (I'm taking the photo, and you can see one of our cherished non-homo sapiens family members in the foreground).
A rare pic of some members of my extended family sharing lunch together (I’m taking the photo, and you can see one of our cherished non-homo sapiens family members in the foreground).

Family. Holidays. Oh boy. For many of us, that particular combo is a tough one.

Recently it occurred to me that the holidays typically bring a fresh full round of blog posts, articles and self help lists outlining ways to connect, re-connect or at least not kill fellow family members during the holidays.

Why is this, I wonder? Why does the quantity of such posts increase so tangibly right around this time each year?

And why don’t we stress this way about connecting/re-connecting/not offing our friends during the holidays….or most friends anyway?

If a friendship isn’t working out, there is a recognized path to gain distance and, in time, even cease from relating altogether if that is what is best for both parties. No harm, no foul, it just didn’t work out.

But there seems to be no such path when it comes to family.

Please understand, I’m not trying to say that separating from a friend, regardless of the reason, isn’t difficult or devastating. I have often felt both in the wake of such separations, and some I still suffer about today, even though the time for suffering has technically long since passed.

Rather, I’m just saying that, whether: a) we are full of reasons why we personally won’t/can’t possibly consider gathering together with our family for the holidays, or b) we are situated comfortably in the bosom of our family and railing at other family members who won’t/can’t join us, that drive to stay together seems to remain.

The sense of separation combined with the feeling of “non-rightness” at such separation combined with the angst and anger and hope in the face of a separation – it haunts us whether we say we’ve come to terms with our choice about how close or far away to stay from our family or not.

Or at least that is how it plays out in my family, and I see it in the families of some of my friends and colleagues.

I also notice I hear more such stories during the holidays than at other times of year. 

For instance, a former friend of mine (from an earlier period in my life) often felt angry at her family. All year long she would make mention of it rather frequently. But during the holidays it got ramped up a notch or 10, and all that frustration and bitterness and rage and confusion would just spurt out of her like a fire hydrant that suddenly springs an unfixable leak.

It was palpable – the increase in intensity.

So now I find myself wondering – is it genetic, this holiday-centric awareness of disconnection and desire to end the separation or heal it or resolve it already?

Is it perhaps part of our deep early homo sapiens survival instinct, an ancient and urgent inner fight-or-flight response to remind us that tribal members who stay together stay out of the teeth of saber tooth tigers together?

Or could it perhaps be a function of our shared DNA, calling to one another on some deep primal level our conscious senses cannot, well, sense?

I looked it up, by the way – the amount of DNA that family members share with one another versus with others (friends, acquaintances, pets, bugs) who are not descended out of our specific family tree.

Not surprisingly, I discovered that identical twins have the strongest genetic connection – 100 percent of their DNA is identical.

But parents and kids only share 50 percent DNA.

Grandparents and grandkids share (on average) around 25 percent DNA.

Starting with first cousins, that percentage drops to 12.5.

Then I looked up how much DNA we share with other humans, and here is where things started to get confusing.

Apparently we share 99 percent of our shared DNA (the DNA we share with every living thing, from bananas to chimps), with other humans, even if they are not related to us at all.

But it is the 1 percent of DNA we do not share with these non-family humans that matters most. Out of that 1 percent of DNA, we then share 100 percent of that with an identical twin, 50 percent with a child, 25 percent with a grandparent, and so forth.

So if the “shared DNA” theory holds water, it is this 1 percent of DNA that won’t let us rest until we resolve things with our family on some level.

Ideally, that would mean getting reconnected and then staying connected – resolving whatever needs resolving, making amends or being made amends to, finding peace, moving forward as a whole and integrated unit.

So long as disconnection, discord, disharmony, et al, remains, this shared DNA will continue calling out to its identical twins residing in other bodies in other cities or on other continents (or even in the beyond, wherever we go after our physical bodies finally call it quits).

Or there could be some other totally more plausible and scientifically valid explanation for what I am starting to call “reliable holiday-centric family harmony angst.”

Or perhaps there is no explanation whatsoever, and it is just homo sapiens being homo sapiens, choosing the hard way over and over because that is what keeps us just uncomfortable enough to learn and evolve.

Or maybe there is some even less flattering reason.

It could also be what Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., one of my all-time favorite mentors, calls “the process of domestication.” Here, we would have grown up with the repeated lesson that nice, kind, mature boys and girls grow up to do what it takes to foster good family relationships during the holidays, even if it means twisting ourselves into an emotional pretzel to pull it off.

It could be domestication driving us to do this, for sure.

But I really don’t know, which in my world just means I get curiouser and curiouser and am eager to hear what your thoughts are!

Today’s Takeaway: What do you think is behind the drive to be with family during the holidays? Or perhaps the drive to not be with family? So I guess what I’m trying to ask is what do you think is behind the drive itself, whether it is towards or away from? Why does it often seem so specific to family, and so specific to these particular months of each year? I’m just curious – and if your family is one of those that doesn’t struggle with this at all, I’d love to hear your story too and what works to help you stay connected in a way that feels good to each of you!

The Hope and Angst of Family During the Holidays

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). The Hope and Angst of Family During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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