Holiday family gatherings are a time to come together with loved ones, strengthen familial bonds, share in a few traditions, and maybe gorge ourselves on a few holiday goodies. Unfortunately, they can also be a time for settling old scores, making catty comments, rehashing old rivalries, and quarreling nonsensically after one or two Tom and Jerry’s too many. Then, there’s always that one relative who manages to single-handedly turn every family gathering upside down with his or her caustic, drunken, or eccentric behavior.
If family discord is making your holiday gatherings seem more and more like a war zone each year, implementing the following strategies might help you restore some “relative peace.”
Check your opinions at the door
Neutral discussion topics should be the order of the day at any family get-together. Even among fairly like-minded individuals, opinions can vary widely when it comes to certain political, social, and religious topics. So, pontificating about the foibles of politician so-and-so is apt to raise an eyebrow or two. Tacitly or overtly judging the child-rearing techniques or housekeeping standards of present company is a sure way to sow discord, as well. Remember, no one is going to be converted to a new way of thinking based on your lecture or sermon.
Set the example for the rest of the group by limiting your discussion to non-emotionally charged topics, such as sports (unless the Michigan/Ohio State “border battle” is strong in your family), work, vacation plans, or an interesting book you read recently. If someone else starts to proselytize, listen politely, hold your tongue, and let them be right. Then take the first opportunity to steer the conversation into neutral territory.
Don’t take the bait
Some relatives come to every family gathering just raring for a fight with the first person who expresses a contrary viewpoint. This person is typically familiar with everyone’s hot-button issues because they’ve successfully triggered arguments in the past—and an argument is exactly what he or she wants. Don’t fall into the trap! If there are no takers for an argument, this baiting behavior will soon desist. If you must say something in response, keep it light and quickly shift gears (“Aunt Bessie, you sure make a delicious pumpkin pie!”).
Go alcohol free
There’s no tactful way to tell inebriated guests that they’ve had too much to drink or to take a drink out of their hands once they’ve crossed the line into obnoxious drunkenness. If you’ve invited someone who tends to overindulge and lapse into embarrassing behavior, consider making the party alcohol free. Or, limit the amount of alcohol you serve so it’s not so easy for a guest to overdo it.
Do unto others
When you’re a guest in the home of a challenging relative during the holidays, make a point of showing your appreciation for all the host’s hard work. Comment on the delicious foods and the tasteful furnishings and décor. Avoid making any criticisms or offering any unsolicited advice or suggestions. When the tables are turned and you’re the host, that person may remember your gracious behavior and be more inclined to act civilly in your home.
Careful with other people’s kids!
Few things infuriate parents faster than someone else stepping in to discipline their children right in front of them. When Mom and Dad are in the room, they should be considered the first and final word when it comes to disciplining their kids—even if little Billy is creating a general disturbance and they aren’t doing a thing to intervene. Of course, exceptions must be made—and parental feelings hurt if necessary—in any situation that could lead to someone being injured or property being damaged.
Embrace the chaos
Even the most peaceful holiday family get-together is a study in chaos. Don’t fight it. Go with the flow. If a horde of screaming kids is stampeding through the house, shake it off and remind yourself that it’s only temporary. If Grandpa tells the same corny joke that he’s told every year for the past three decades, laugh like you’re hearing it for the first time. If Aunt Jane says something that could be construed as insulting, give her the benefit of the doubt. Assume that she didn’t mean to offend and move on to another topic.
While these tips won’t make your holidays look like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, they might help you set a more positive tone that others in your family will appreciate and, perhaps, seek to emulate.
Who knows, Uncle Dave might even stop teaching the kids to burp their ABCs—but don’t count on it. ❦