How to Deal with Difficult Family at the Holidays - Baby Chick

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How to Deal with Difficult Family at the Holidays

holidaysUpdated December 28, 2021


People often say that holidays lose their magic as we get older. While some credit is knowing what’s behind the scenes of all that magic (i.e., we become Santa and lose that sense of wonder), I often think we feel this way because of heightened family tensions. I grew up in a family that spent time together during the holidays—no matter what. It did not matter if there was family turmoil or stress; we were still together. That anger and hurt were palpable as a child. Noting those awkward silences into my teenage years had me wanting to do things differently as an adult.

Now that I have a daughter, though, I am at a crossroads between wanting her to see her family and spending Christmas at home: away from the judgment, questioning, and old wounds reopening. If I have any hope to survive the holidays with my family and sanity intact, I’ve had to become creative.

How to Deal with Difficult Family at the Holidays

Create Opportunities to Get Some Space

If you’re coming in from out-of-town, finding space in the hustle and bustle of gathering family at the holidays can prove to be rather difficult. There are always opportunities, though: be the one who volunteers to go to the grocery store if there’s a last-minute ingredient left off the list. Bonus points if that grocery store happens to be next to a coffee shop, liquor store, or other places of refuge that extends your foray into the wilds of holiday shoppers instead of going back to the ones who make you want to drink in the first place. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After all: if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or bothered with family at the holidays, that’s the ideal time to head out and give everyone a moment to calm down and process their emotions.

What About Their Point of View?

The least exciting prospect of all the things that weigh a family down is considering their perspective. After all, you have hard feelings for a reason. Barring certain things, though, there could be other perspectives to consider: maybe a miscommunication led to the disagreement you had? Many conflicts are a direct result of miscommunication or a misunderstanding. Perhaps have a frank discussion about how you’re feeling. Look for ways to be the bigger person that will be healing for all parties involved. Often, waiting for others to make the first move doesn’t work. Instead, it means you may never get to find peace and healing from the situation. Take charge, address, and confront the problem. Consider if you may have played a part in the situation—then use this opportunity to fix it.  

Don’t Allow Others to Belittle You.

Just because you’re looking to be peaceful, it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate verbal abuse. Some family members do not have a filter or know what boundaries are. You do not have to listen to this and are totally entitled to put them in their place. Kill them with kindness or sarcasm, and let them know you (nor your spouse or children) are cannon fodder for banter or rude comments. This means rocking the boat a bit, but hopefully, it might allow that person to reflect on being more empathetic. We all deal with the unfortunate reality that some family members are just assholes: ignore them entirely if this is the case.

Have an Ally

Everyone needs an ally during get-togethers with family at the holidays: whether it’s your spouse, your favorite cousin, or a sarcastic or witty grandparent. This has been a Godsend for me through multiple heated family gatherings. From finding out I got a tattoo to announcing I’d be moving across the world (twice), I found strength in my sanity-saving partner every time. Having someone else around to lighten the mood or diffuse tensions when things get heavy is invaluable. But you could probably pay them back in the form of a drink or two.

I want there to be peace on earth and goodwill to all, and that includes my family. One of the hardest things to accept about growing older is that everyone doesn’t always get along. But that this is also okay. When you’re tempted to be drawn into family drama, to succumb to negative comments, or to allow someone to make your holidays anything less than bright, remember these tips. And remember that it’s okay to give yourself the gift of silence and peace by leaving any situation that doesn’t get better.