One of the most relatable scenes in the movie Christmas Vacation is when the Griswold’s doorbell rings with a deep gong and the senior relatives come pouring into the house. As soon as the “o” is on their “hellos” the grandparents launch into gossip, complaints of back problems, hemorrhoids, and suspicious moles, and arguments about who gets to use the garage, all within the tight confines of the foyer. Chevy Chase’s character’s response is “This is what Christmas is all about. I’ll go park the car, check the luggage, and be outside… for the season.” Maybe you don’t have extended family moving in for a week but chances are, you’ll need to know how to deal with difficult family during the holidays at some point.
It is possible to enjoy your time together with family even when everyone doesn’t agree on every issue in the world. But to keep things light and easy, it’s necessary to think about those potential areas of conflict or stress and develop a plan for defusing them. This is where you can work to set the tone and control the atmosphere. Here are 6 things to plan before the doorbell rings:
1. Identify the hot-button issues.
If you know that Uncle Carl goes bananas when discussing politics, it may not be a great idea to keep the news on in the background all day. Agree with your husband that if the discussion starts drifting in a problematic direction, one of you will proactively steer it back to a lighter topic. Single moms, find “your person” at the gathering and make a pact to work together to keep the conversations light.
2. Focus on fun.
Sometimes when we dwell on how to deal with difficult family during the holidays we can end up taking on a heaviness before the front door even opens. Remind yourself that there is so much to be grateful for and make sure your attitude is focused on fun and joy. A joyful spirit is contagious at the holidays, even with grumpy, confrontational family members.
A joyful spirit is contagious at the holidays, even with grumpy, confrontational family members.
3. Plan to get some air.
After sitting and talking for hours on end, even the most agreeable people can fall into tense areas of conversation. Plan some activities to get folks moving. A flag football game in the front yard is fun for the younger crowd and entertainment for the older family members. A walk around the neighborhood to stretch after a big meal is a great stress-reliever, too. You can also come up with a “distress signal” you can use with your husband or sister when you need to be rescued. If your Great Aunt is going on and on about how you need to do this or that in raising your children, give the agreed-upon signal and wait for reinforcements to come swooping in.
4. Build in some intentional quiet time.
If you have houseguests for a few (or several) days, be intentional about creating some solitary time for yourself to regroup and recharge your hostess batteries. Encourage grandparents to take the kids to the park or read a Christmas story together while you spend some time alone. Just a couple of hours to decompress can help you cope with the challenges far better.
5. Enlist the children.
Your children are probably the greatest single source of entertainment and joy to your extended family. Help the kids plan a few activities they want to do with grandma and grandpa that will keep everyone smiling. They could do a craft together, or the kids could perform a mini-recital of their musical skills. If the kids are real hams, a full-scale talent show may be in order.
6. Make them feel needed.
Some houseguests are far more comfortable if they feel useful. Let your relatives pitch in on meal preparations or clean-up if they’d like. They’ll feel more at home, and you’ll be less exhausted.
What are your ideas for how to deal with difficult family during the holidays?