The most beautiful part of the holiday season (family!) can also be the most anxiety-inducing, depending on the colorful cast of characters that make up your family tree. We know though, that you love them … and that you’re excited to spend time with them and want to make the most of it this year, so here’s our guide to navigating even the trickiest family challenges with grace, understanding and maybe even a little humor.
From that uncle who won’t stop ranting about politics to the twins who tear your house apart each year, we’ve got you covered:
OVERLY POLITICAL UNCLE PETE
You know the one. Debates seem to be his fuel, so he volunteers his extreme political positions at every turn. Passing the potatoes turns into a health care rant. Stories of your trip abroad are segued into foreign relations gripes.
The solution here? Listening, then a distraction. Acknowledge his statements with eye contact, listening and then when it’s your turn to speak, a sincere, “That’s interesting.” or “Wow! You’ve thought a lot about this. You should make a YouTube channel and video yourself talking about all this stuff.” (Bonus points for re-articulating what he’s saying back to him … no matter how mad it’s making you.) Then shift the atmosphere towards greener pastures – suggest Uncle Pete get out his guitar and serenade the family. Or ask the host to tell everyone how she managed to make the most delicious pie you’ve ever tasted.
The wine is great, but what was REALLY great was the 90-year-old wine he had in Italy last spring. And did you know that the law firm where he works just invited him to a ridiculously lush dinner on a yacht with the senior partners? And that he saw that idea he’s had for years on Shark Tank – the investors offered 10 million for it.
Maybe Brandon’s just honestly really proud of himself. Or maybe he doubts himself and needs reassurance. Or maybe he’s just a jerk. Ha!
The solution? Pour yourself another glass of wine and celebrate with him! Cheers to Italian wine! Cheers to lush dinners on yachts! And to acting on your ideas for inventions next time! If Brandon can’t celebrate with family, then who? Then, while the praises are flowing, use the opportunity to congratulate someone else in the room. “Did you know Jasmine just got an agent for her young adult book!? She’d never mention it, so I’m going to embarrass her. Cheers to her too!”
THE TASMANIAN DEVIL TWINS
They just turned 3 and they’re unstoppable. You shudder, imagining glass being shattered, food being thrown, vomit happening and constant, loud toddler noises. Fear not! Here’s how to handle the twins:
Whether you’re the host or another guest at dinner, be (or come) prepared with something simple to help make things fun for them. Before the get-together, ask their mom what they’re into. When you arrive with a coloring book of their favorite cartoon, plus crayons, they’ll be psyched. Or stop at the dollar store and grab bubbles for them to blow while the grown-ups are finishing up dinner.
Also, as you probably know, infants and toddlers aren’t generally trying to be as obnoxious as possible. If they’re fussy, there’s usually a reason. Offer to help them find a snack. If you’re the host, prepare a quiet place for them to go to sleep if they need it. If they seem bored, take them to Cousin Johnny to see the magic trick he loves to show people. Or turn on some fun music and start a dance party. If everyone pitches in, taking care of the twins will be easy breezy, and mom and dad will love you for giving them a little breakie poo.
SAD COUSIN SANDRA
Maybe she’s going through a divorce. Or a rough patch at work. Or financial stress. No matter the reason, you can be a ray of sunshine to Sad Cousin Sandra. Here’s how:
When she wanders off into the study alone to “look at family photos,” go with her and ask how she’s doing. She may just open up now that it’s just the two of you. Listen to her. And keep listening. Don’t offer any advice unless she asks. Instead, tell her that you’re here for her. Encourage her with something you see that she’s doing well. Or ask an open-ended question like, “Man! That’s tough. What are you hoping happens now?” or “How are you feeling about all of this?”
Chances are, just being listened to will feel like therapy for her. But in the off chance that she’s just a chronically pessimistic or ungrateful person, don’t let yourself get dragged into a whine-fest. Tell her what gives you hope when you look at the situation.
You know he’s off work today, so what’s he doing!? Swiping through online dating profiles?! Playing a video game!? It can feel maddening when someone at a party won’t get off of their phone. Here are a few ways to handle it:
If you’re the host, put a little basket with a funny note right inside the front door. It can say something like, “Drop your phone in here so that only the people in the room can bother you for a few hours!” Or “Phone-Free Zone. You’re welcome.” And put yours in to give guests the idea.
If you’re not the host, suggest that the chronic screen-starer be the photographer for the day. Since they won’t let go of the phone, you might as well put them to work with it. And ask them to send everyone the photos after. Or jokingly ask what they’re looking at. Maybe it’s some funny viral video – or something else worth pulling up on your computer monitor for all to see.
STEPHANIE THE STRESSED-OUT HOST
The easiest way to be a dream guest for a stressed-out host is to think about the things that would worry you and to try to ease them.
If you’d be nervous about how your turkey will come out, tell Stephanie (if you do!) that you think hers is AMAZING and ask how she kept it so juicy! It’ll be a giant relief to know you enjoyed it. Or better yet, ask before the holiday if there’s something you can bring to contribute to dinner.
If you’d be up all night dreading the pile of dishes leftover after dinner, hop up after the meal, cut Stephanie a slice of pie and banish her from the kitchen. Tell her that she’s not allowed to touch the dishes and then grab a few recruits to help you scrape plates and load and run the dishwasher. She’ll feel like she’s getting a spa day.
If you’d be anxious that everyone has a good time, help take that weight off of your host. Come with a funny story to share or a happy question to ask around the fire (“What’s everyone looking forward to?” is always a great way to go!)
Navigating family … or heck, just humans in general … can be tricky. But with a little pre-planning and a pinch of compassion, you can do it with ease. All in all, the trick is to see yourself as an integral part of the day. Take ownership of making things wonderful for everyone. Don’t just leave it to your host! Happy holidays!