Family gatherings around the holidays can be frighteningly stressful. Children dread the cheek pinching, teenagers avoid embarrassing questions, and adults try their best to keep everybody happy and under control. Of course, there may be no way to avoid awkward situations or tearful dramas, but the holidays really shouldn’t be that hard.
Where did the fun go?
The way I see it, families have become accustomed to a certain set of “family gathering” rules. You have to act a certain way, watch your language, stand up straight, tuck in your shirt, and put on a happy smile. The thing that really baffles me is how these set of rules came to be. We’re family, for crying out loud! If you can’t be yourself around family, then who can you be yourself around? Work has a set of standards you have to work by (which I would suggest following if you have bills to pay), you have to obey the rules of the road, and you have an obligation to mankind to have some set of morals. Everyone is constantly tied down to regulations, laws to live by, and ideas of how you should be! Why put rules when it comes to family, the people who are supposed to love you the most in this world?
Try this on for size…
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Are family members using the incorrect fork to eat their salad? Are the young ones picking at the desserts before the meal has even started? My next question is….does it really matter? Ask yourself that question. Around the holidays there is enough stress to go around, so why not let go of the little things that may irk you. Is your husband’s tie too flashy? Why not let him wear it if it makes him happy. Who knows, it maybe be a great conversation starter and may even get a few laughs, defusing any sensitive conversation topics.
2. When asking how a family member is doing – Be genuinely curious! The last thing people want to do is spend their weekend making small talk, repeating the same “Hi, how are you doing? How’s the family?” questions. Be sincere in your questions and really mean what you say. People hate to be asked a question and while replying feel like they lost you at “Well, the other day I was at work and…”. Don’t brush people off with a “Oh, that’s nice….Honey?! Where’s the bottle of wine we brought” remark. On the same token, avoid lame responses such as “I’m fine. Work’s good. Family’s good. You know. Same old, same old!”. How can a family remain close with conversations like that? Be sincere in your questions and answers.
3. Be yourself. I’m a strong believer in being who you are. If you’re a teenager who’s going through a phase of sitting quietly in a corner with headphone on, wearing a hoodie…be that typical teenager! Being an adult though, you shouldn’t expect teenagers to come out of their shell, especially when there is nobody else their age at the gathering or around family members they may not know very well. Let your son listen to death metal if he wants (at a reasonable volume of course – I bet you can both compromise on that). If your uncle swears a little too much, well…if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! You may both have a lot of frustration to get out and could actually bond over a discussion about how gas prices are ****ing ridiculous! It’s alright to let loose a little and be who you are. As long as everyone remembers to be kind and understanding (and as long as it doesn’t get violent or destructive) I say it can’t be all that bad.
4. Be honest about your life. If your life has been miserable and you’re dreading pretending like everything is okay, open up. Family should be there to support you through hard times. Of course, you don’t want to bring people down around the holidays, but it will be more destructive to keep things bottled up as you watch people huddled in a corner laughing at Grandpa’s trip down memory lane. Find a family member you trust and talk it out. Who knows, they may be going through something similar or can relate to what’s going on (or not going on) in your life.
5. It’s not about the perfect get together, it’s about the people you share it with. Forget any notion you have of a perfect get together. It doesn’t exist. There are too many personalities, characters, and opinions up an about to try to please them all. Instead of making sure that the food is cooked on time, that the center piece is straight, that there are enough activities to last a lifetime, try focusing more on “whatever happens happens”. Less can sometimes be more and if you try to control the situation too much, activities will seemed forced and conversations may seem fake. If the guys decide to kick around a soccer ball, then the guys decide to kick around a soccer ball! Let things flow…like a river!
6. Accept help when offered. Some family members roam around feeling lost and useless (not in a bad way by any means!). They look around to make little adjustments, glance into the sink for dishes to clean, and go around picking up dirty dishes. If this family member comes your way and says “Is there anything I can do to help?” your answer should be “Why, yes! Yes there is!”. Encourage people to get involved with cleaning up (without insisting). If you’re the type of person who has everything timed and under control, you may want to consider purposely leaving something for others to do. If you’re the type of person who needs a lot of help, make a game out of cleaning! Give prizes to the kid who picks up the most toys lying around. Be creative when it comes to cleaning, setting, cooking, etc. It makes things a lot more fun.
7. Thank the host. I think the host has the hardest time when it comes to family gatherings for the holidays. The stress of setting up and cleaning the house can be a major challenge to overcome! It’s hard to keep a smile on your face when you’re worried about everyone having a good time. Remember to thank the host for having you over to their humble abode. Offer to help clean. Compliment their decor. Rave about the food! Avoid comments such as “Well, your dining room is far too small to seat 20. Next time we should go to your sister’s house for Thanksgiving.” Putting down the person who welcomes you into their home is not a constructive way to keep holiday traditions going. Keep the comments for a later date if they are relevant and important.
I am not a professional…
These points are not facts. They are simply suggestions, or rather things to keep in mind. Feel free to take what you want from it, strongly disagree, or agree to disagree! Family get togethers are hard, regardless of any advice or tips you may read about. It’s important to keep an open mind and stay relaxed. Enjoy the time off. Enjoy the company! Enjoy life…
See you tomorrow morning!
Good Morning, Joe
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