We all have them–one or more people in the family that make life difficult. A controlling in-law, a rebellious child, a loud and obnoxious uncle, or maybe the gossiping aunt. They come in all sizes and shapes. And every holiday season, we have to be intentional about how we are going to handle difficult relatives.
Here are 5 tips to a better holiday with family:
- Evaluate your expectations. Are they realistic? If you are expecting this to be the most wonderful time of the year and family members are rude, irritating or inconsiderate, it won’t be. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your family. Don’t ignore the problems. Instead, have a plan to deal with the issues that will most likely surface and be realistic about how much change is possible this time of year.
- Anticipate the triggers and prepare in advance how you want to respond. Most of us know the issues that upset us and turn into fights and arguments. This year, prepare a new way to respond that doesn’t lead to arguments. For example, when Uncle Bob starts lambasting you about the election simply say, “Well we all know where you stand. Thanks for letting us know,” rather than argue. If you respond in a new way, the interaction will be different.
- If there is too much drinking, fighting, or negativity, plan an escape. Go for a walk, a movie, visit a friend and take a break. If your family is too volatile, don’t stay with them. Book a hotel and allow yourself freedom to come and go. The idea here is be a part of the holidays, but have clear boundaries and a ways to take a time-out if needed.
- Pray before and during your time together. Prayer is a powerful way to center yourself, to ask God to help you be merciful and give grace. Lean on Him. He promises to be a help in times of trouble. So let’s ask him, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, to give us what we need to best represent Christ.
- Make this year a challenge–the year you don’t lose it, the year you stay calm, the year you exercise forgiveness and refuse to take offense. Challenge yourself to control your reactions and work on the parts of you that contribute to problems. After all, that is the only part you control anyway!
One of my favorite Thanksgiving family traditions was making pies. My mom could have opened up a pie store. Her pies were that good! And the smell of those pies cooking in the mornings was glorious. Watching my grandmother and mom work side by side and including me in making the fillings, brings back wonderful memories.
My question to you is, what are your holiday family traditions? In talking to a number of millennials, I have heard a wish for more traditions around holidays. Several people feel they really don’t have traditions—maybe due to distance, divorce and other factors that can cause families to be disconnected. But traditions help us stay connected and build a strong bond between family members. They connect us to our history and bring generational meaning.
Traditions help pass on important family values and bring a sense of security and predictability to children. We all like a sense of continuity because it builds feelings of security. So this Thanksgiving, consider adding a family tradition or preserving the ones you already have. For those of you needing ideas, here are a few:
- Have a special Thanksgiving ritual around breakfast and preparing the meal. We do cinnamon rolls while we are making preparations.
- Have special activities—a football game, card games, walks or hikes. Something that is a regular part of the celebration. In my family, it was bowling!
- Make a gratitude box out of an old shoe box. Decorate the box with the kids and cut a slit in the top. Every day from now until Thanksgiving, have each person in the family write down something he/she is thankful for and put it in the box. At your Thanksgiving celebration, read the notes out loud.
- Try a few colonial crafts or foods. Yes, eel and squirrel were part of the first Thanksgiving feasts! Yikes!
- Do a service activity like serving the Thanksgiving meal at a homeless shelter, raking leaves for the elderly or shopping for food.
Whatever you decide, consider the words of Abraham Lincoln. His words are relevant today, “But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…” Our blessings all come from God. This Thanksgiving, make it a tradition to give thanks to the One that provides every gift and blessing.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endures forever…Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” Psalm 107: 1, 8,9
This year, Jill and Rick will spend Thanksgiving with Rick’s family. Jill and Rick have very different families.
Jill’s family focuses Thanksgiving around Christian themes like blessings and gratitude. Rick’s family never mentions God. They are not Christians and Thanksgiving is all about the food and drinking.
Jill feels uncomfortable because the drinking has caused arguments and fights among family members. It is not pleasant to spend the day with relatives who bicker and prefer to escape their unpleasantries with one another though drinking. She doesn’t want to go, but feels she should support her husband. No one has ever been mean to her. She just hates the way a few relatives act once they get drunk.
What do you do when one family celebrates in a way totally different from yours? After all, most of us have a family member or two that make family time challenging. Little things can irritate us when we get together for holiday events.
Remember, it’s only a day. Unless there is physical danger or abuse, you can tolerate most anything for a short period of time.
Roll with the differences during the holiday season. Your expectations make all the difference in terms of your stress level. Don’t expect changes unless the family has been in therapy during the year! If you know what to expect, have a few strategies.
It may help to remember that sibling rivalries don’t stop during adulthood. Many adults are still working out issues related to old wounds. Being home, brings those wounds to the surface.And whatever issues are left unresolved during the year, manage to find an outlet during the holidays.
So on the way over, ask your spouse to tell you a few positive memories of his relatives. Talking about good times and moments of laughter and fun. This could relieve some of the stress and show you a different side to some of the relatives.
One option is to separate yourself from the rowdy group and find two or three people to play cards, go on a walk or do something like a puzzle or game. You might want to take a game to entertain the children or a group of people in a space away from the crowd. Go for a walk if the weather is decent and get away from the crowd for a few moments.
If relatives get out of hand, have an escape route. This usually means booking a hotel room so you can politely excuse yourself, having stayed for awhile. Just tell the family that it was great to see everyone and leave on a positive note.
Bottom line, families all have issues and differences. Since we can’t control them, we can control how we approach the day. Start positive, lower your expectations, have a few activities planned and leave if things begin to escalate. This is not the time to confront. Save that for another time.