I’m sure I can’t be the only one who relates to this article on how to handle family squabbles over the holidays. While I really love my aunt Edna’s stuffing, her not so silent opinions on my wardrobe make family gatherings tense. As I was perusing the internet, I stumbled upon “The Happiness Project”, a mission that Gretchen Rubin has been on in an effort to showcase the positive in her life. You may have seen her columns in Good Housekeeping, detailing different challenges within the project. She has written an interesting article on how to better deal with difficult relatives.
The first tip she gives is to think about how you want the gathering to go before you walk in. Give yourself a chance to make a plan of attack and think about how you should react, as opposed to reacting in the moment. Think about how you can make the situation different. If you know that a certain individual is going to make a certain remark (they do every year), consider how your reaction can be different this time in an effort to avoid conflict. You may not be able to change your brother, but you can change the way you react to his comments.
Choose topics wisely. Who knows, you could be the instigator behind someone else’s anger. Keep questions open ended, rather than pointed specifically on one topic. Things like, ‘what are you up to these days?’ are much better than, ‘so when are you going to get married?’ Along with that, stay away from issues you know are going to cause trouble. Sure, some families like having heated debates about politics or haircuts, but many do not. Just make sure you know which one you belong to, and try not to rock the boat. If someone brings up a topic that particularly annoys you, remember the first tip – choose how you respond. Make a joke of it, and try to end the conversation there.
Here’s something we can all appreciate – don’t drink too much alcohol! This goes for everyone in attendance. ‘Liquid courage’ – isn’t that a nickname for cocktails? Probably not the kind of thing you want in abundance when trying to have a peaceful evening. Alcohol can make people belligerent, angry, or just plain sad - and can ruin a fun evening for everyone. If past experiences have taught you that this is a problem for your family, think about strategies to change that this year.
The next tip outlined is an important one. Be patient. Family gatherings can range from extremely traditional to no traditions at all, and whatever the case may be…do your best to play your part. If you’re hosting a gathering this year, go easy on yourself and be patient with your guests. Ease up on your guests and especially yourself, and realize that it’s okay if not everything goes to plan.
Stay in control of your eating. Feeling stuffed to the point of discomfort often makes people irritable and angry. You’ll have more fun and be able to relax more if you aren’t feeling guilty about eating too much or still stuffed from that extra slice of pie.
Find things to be grateful for. Be grateful that you get to eat pumpkin pie. Be grateful that you don’t have to eat lutefisk. Be grateful that everyone is together. Be grateful that you have a championship football team (Go Pack!) to watch on Thanksgiving Day! Find something to make at least part of the day positive. Chances are when you change your attitude prior to your arrival; the outcome of the day will change too.
And last but not least – HAVE FUN! This time together isn’t meant to be something you dread all year, it’s meant to be enjoyed! Keep in mind that everyone has a different definition of fun, but take the time to do something that you think is fun. Watching TV, cooking, playing cards, sitting around talking…these are things that may or may not be fun to different members of your family, so respect that and plan accordingly for everyone to enjoy themselves.
Remember – you can’t change how your family will act, you can only change how you respond to it! If you behave differently, chances are they will too.
What are the holidays like at your house? Have you ever experienced a difficult relative? Gosh knows I have. Tell me your stories! I’d love to hear them and hear what strategies you used to deal with them!