People often say that the holidays lose their magic as we get older, and while some credit is to 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 at the holidays–no matter what. It did not matter if there was family turmoil or stress; we were still together. That anger and hurt was palpable as a child, and 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 wanting to spend 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 place of refuge that extends your foray into the wilds of holiday shoppers in lieu 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 to consider their point of view. After all, you have hard feelings for a reason. Barring certain things, though, there could be other perspectives to consider: maybe there was a miscommunication that led to the disagreement you had? Many conflicts are a direct result of miscommunication or a misunderstanding. Perhaps having a frank discussion about the way you’re feeling and looking for ways to be the bigger person would be healing for all parties involved. Oftentimes, waiting for others to make the first move means you may never get to find peace and healing from the situation. Take charge, address and confront the problem, and 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 this holiday season does not mean you have to tolerate verbal abuse. Some family members do not have a filter or do not know what boundaries are: not only do you not have to listen to this, but you 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. Also, the unfortunate reality we all deal with is that some family members are just assholes: ignore them completely 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 an especially 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 to diffuse tensions when things do get heavy is truly 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 it’s okay to give yourself the gift of silence and peace by leaving any situation that doesn’t get better.