How to Enjoy – Not Just Survive – the Holidays with Family

Oh family. 

We love them. We … put up with them. At no time of year is this more true than the holidays – that beautiful time from Thanksgiving to New Years, when our cup runneth over with time spent with our families. Well-meaning parents. Intrusive in-laws. Competitive siblings. Cranky uncles and overbearing aunts.*

*Note that this in no way includes my perfect family. I love you all.

Whether you are single, newlywed, or married for years, we all have to deal with family issues. It’s just a part of life. But I beg of you – don’t let the thought of having to deal with your loved ones hinder you from actually spending time with them. Here are some ways that you can ENJOY – not just survive – the holidays with your family. 

All Families are Dysfunctional

Even the most well-adjusted family has its moments. The key to rude questions or debate at the dinner table? Redirection. You heard it here first. 

The Uncle Who Loves Donnie (Trump, that is)

I think it’s SO important that we stay up-to-date with current events, Uncle Joe, but maybe we should save this topic for another time? I just don’t want anyone to get too riled up after a few too many mugs of spiked cider. Tell me, how was your fishing trip to June Lake this year?

The Nosy Kids (or Marriage) Question

I’m a firm believer that everything happens in due time, Aunt Laura. No news on that front quite yet, but did mom tell you that I’m applying for a Master’s program at NYU for next fall? I’m really excited to start this next chapter of my career!

Dad Just Isn’t Impressed

Hey mom, do you think you could keep dad in check today? I really want to enjoy myself, but I’m afraid he’s going to bring *INSERT SOMETHING ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE YOU’VE DONE HERE* and that’s just not something I want to deal with during dinner. 

You Should Probably Lose Weight

Now THAT is something I definitely don’t need to worry about until after the new year! Didn’t you know? Calories don’t exist from Thanksgiving to Christmas. 

Prepare and Practice Self Care

At no point is self care more important than every day of your life. It’s okay to be a little selfish while spending time with family if it means you’ll be more prepared to deal with difficult – or just annoying – situations later on. 

Set Your Boundaries

If you know – just know – that you’re going to struggle throughout the day, give yourself some boundaries. Make a pact with yourself and your spouse (or whoever you came with) that you’ll leave no later than 6pm. Don’t feel like you need to arrive too early either. Offering to bring something, such as a homemade pie, is a great excuse to give for getting there right before the meal. Obviously you want to make sure it’s as fresh as possible!

Get a Partner and Make a Deal

Find someone that you know is on your side. If you aren’t married or bringing a date, perhaps a sibling or cousin you get along with. The deal? If one of you needs a break, the other will cover. Designate a quiet spot where you know you won’t be bothered, and don’t be afraid to use it. Take five, ten, even fifteen minutes to breathe or meditate, away from your family. And when the time comes for the other to take a break? Distract your mother with compliments about the cranberry sauce. 

Indulge – Just Not Too Much

Sure, have that second (or third … or fourth) glass of wine, but know your limit. It can be easy to drink away the awkwardness, but indulging too much can mean behavior you regret later on. If you are finding yourself stressed at dinner, take a break instead (perhaps even with your glass of wine). Take time to breathe through it, and try and figure out exactly what is bothering you. Once you’ve identified the problem, coming up with a response can be easier – and better – than downing that bottle of Bourbon in your dad’s stash. 

Say No to Bullshit

Intrusive questions and harmless teasing are one thing – bullying is something else. If you just know that someone is going to give you a hard time – hard enough that there is no way you can enjoy yourself at all if they start acting up – it’s okay to say NO. Find something else to do for the holiday – hello Bahamas! – or give yourself a plan of action in case things get out of hand (and that can include just peacing out, if need be). No amount of stress is worth giving up the happiness of the holiday season for. 

A Note to the Newlyweds

Trying to figure out what to do for the holidays can be a big thing for newlyweds. Instead of stressing over who will be graced with your presence at Thanksgiving dinner, think of this time as an opportunity for you to form  your own holiday traditions. Getting married means that you’ve created an entirely new family, one that comes before your old. So, be on each others’ side. Don’t argue in front of parents or talk badly behind each others’ back. Try and find a compromise – the great thing about November and December is that there are TONS of opportunities for you to spend with family – you don’t need to go to four different homes in one day. Agree that you’ll spend Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas Eve with yours. Christmas day will be saved just for the two of you – and you never know! This new tradition might just mean more to you than the last. 

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