I managed to make it through one major holiday this year with my family, and I am about to head into another.  When I say “I managed to make it through one holiday”, I am being extremely literal.  It took a lot of strength to make it through that day.  

With another holiday on the horizon, I now think it’s important to go into these events with a strategy.

Fortunately, for me, most of my family is within driving distance, which makes the travel aspect of the holiday season a non-issue.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other challenges.  

From gift giving, to meal planning, to awkward conversations with family members, it’s all about how to navigate the landmines.  While each one of these can bring about a lot of anxiety, I think the focus should be on how to deal with family get togethers this time of year.

I left the last family holiday party vowing that I would never go to another one, but is that realistic?  Here are some things that I will try to remember in order to stay on the “sane” path this holiday season.

1. Keep your expectations realistic.

We all know our families, and that is what can make us not want to spend time with them.  In my opinion, the best thing we can do is to keep our expectations realistic.  Expecting that someone will be different this year isn’t exactly realistic.  Sure, they might change, but chances are they haven’t.  While this might come across as cynical, it’s important to be honest in these situations –  can leopards really change their spots?  Don’t think that the family member who is vocal about a particular cause will be any different this year.  If we go into the situation knowing this, we will either be pleasantly surprised when we find they have changed, or at minimum, we won’t be upset over the fact that they haven’t.

I recently read a quote which indicated that you should “expect the worst, hope for the best, but take whatever comes”.  Even if that means you have to listen to a family member drone on about the latest and greatest fad that they are focused on.  Just don’t let them hijack your day with it.  Set a limit for yourself, commit to listening and then excuse yourself from the conversation and move on to another activity.  Maybe your mother needs help in the kitchen, or you want to help your nephew put together a puzzle.  Either way, find a reason to keep moving.

The last thing you want to do is be stuck listening to your uncle discuss genetically modified foods for hours at a time.  Sure, you may agree with some of his views, but his passion far outweighs yours.  Politely excuse yourself and find a distraction to move onto.

  1. Set boundaries, where necessary.

I grew up in a relatively vocal family. Which means, many conversations got heated, quickly.  The topic of conversation at holiday functions has changed over the years. This happened because we got older and started to develop our own opinions.  For the most part we can either agree to disagree, or avoid a topic altogether.  (Sometimes as a result of the stink eye thrown at you by your imposing father)

However, there is always one person who finds it necessary to discuss things that are controversial and can make other people feel uncomfortable.  If this sounds like your family, it might be helpful to discuss boundaries in advance.  

Maybe pick someone neutral to have this conversation with your rogue family member.  It might not be easy to do, but if Aunt Mary is always running her mouth about a particular topic,  it might not hurt to have someone let her know (nicely) which topics are out of bounds.

If that doesn’t work, at least you can control your own actions, so try not to let it ruin your day. Which brings me to my next survival strategy:

3. Don’t let things get to you.

Keep in mind, you don’t get to chose your family.  They are likely to have different views than you, and that’s ok. What you don’t want to do is spend the entire time trying to convince them of your views.  That is likely to turn into a heated argument, and something you will want to avoid.  

If your family has strong views, and there is no chance of coming to an agreement, take some time to step away from the situation.  Or at least until the conversation has died down.  Practice deep breathing, smile and nod, find a quiet place to be alone with your thoughts for a minute or two, or phone/text a friend.  Whatever you do, don’t let it get to you.  

4. Find neutral activities.

With more and more of my siblings having children, there always seems to be a game someone wants to place.  This is a great way to keep you busy and distracted throughout the day.  They always seem to have a game or two that no one has ever heard of, but it makes for a good time.  It brings family together.   Or try one of my favourites – grab a photo album and reminisce about the “good ‘old days”.  Remember your sister’s amazing fashion sense from the 90s, or the time you all went to Disney World for a family vacation?

These types of activities will pass the time and shift your focus away from the negativity.  No matter how much Aunt Mary wants to take it there.  Whatever you decide, keep it light.  And finally,

5. Take time for yourself.

If possible, take some time for yourself.  This doesn’t mean you need to spend half the day sulking in your car, or in a room alone, but maybe go for a quick walk to clear your head.

It’s important to remember that you will be returning to your reality soon enough.  Spending time with your family is also important, so you may need to balance that time with some alone activity.  Balance is key in this instance.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy spending time with my family, but the key for me is moderation.  Remembering the “good ‘ol days” helps.  There was a time when we were younger and I lived for these moments, but we have all grown up and are seemingly different people.  Don’t let the possibility of negativity prevent you from being present in your family’s get togethers.  As I mentioned earlier, you can’t chose your family, so at least try to make the best of it.  

While this is advice that I am giving to you, it is also what I will be keeping in mind for my next family function.  Or should I call it dysfunction? I have many battle scars from family functions, and I am becoming a bit of an expert on how to survive the time with my family.  My goal for the rest of the holiday season is to enjoy the time I have to spend with family, rather than simply trying to “make it through the day”.  I encourage you to do the same.

By Staff Writer

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