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Surviving Your Family for the Holidays

Surviving Your Family for the Holidays

The thing about the holidays is that there are so many of them, and they are so close together! Say you don’t see your family except at the holidays: You’ve got Thanksgiving, boom, then Christmas, whap. It’s no wonder people feel the need to go out and get drunk on New Year’s. I say let’s move one of the holidays to August, spread them out a bit more. It might go a long way towards world peace.

Not that my family isn’t amazing, perfect really. (Dad, if you’re reading this: I love that you wanted to come over and help cook Thanksgiving dinner, really.) So when I talk about family stress during the holidays I am most certainly not talking about my own family. Look up the word “dysfunction” in the dictionary and you won’t find a picture of my family. Nuh-uh.

So now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way and hopefully any of my other relatives have stopped reading, let’s get serious. There’s just something about the holidays that brings out the worst in families. Throw in a few divorces, in-laws, sibling rivalries, and grudges older than your great-uncle Bud–and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, or at the very least some hurt feelings and crushed expectations.

But there are ways to make it through the holidays without impaling yourself on a Christmas tree or smashing a pumpkin pie in someone’s face. I’d love to hear your strategies for dealing with holiday drama, and here’s a few of mine:

1. Let it go. So what if your sister once joked that you’d still belong at the kids’ table when you were 40 and your parents just laughed. Didn’t get invited to your second-cousin’s wedding three years ago? Big deal. It’s time to put that stuff aside. One thing about families is that you’ve got a long history with them, probably longer than anyone else you know. And unlike your best friend in third grade, you can’t just dump them when they do something you don’t like. So take the bad with the good and move on.

2. Be smart. If your uncle is a rabid Republican, don’t gloat about Obama’s stunning victory. If your sister insists on a prayer before the meal to thank God for the meal before you eat, you can go ahead and think to yourself “Hey, I paid my hard-earned money for this stuff at Whole Foods” but you don’t have to say it. There’s no need to talk politics or religion while passing the mashed potatoes, unless you want to start a fight.

3. Lower your expectations. We all have this movie montage picture in our minds of the perfect family holiday setting, with everyone connecting and appreciating one another and having the most fun ever. But this is real life. Sometimes it looks like that, but more often than not it doesn’t. So pack up those expectations with your summer clothes and accept the reality that things don’t always go the way you planned them.

I know I have had some drama over the holidays in the past, but looking back I realize that it was usually drama of my own making. In other words, I could have avoided it if I’d just followed my own advice. My family’s not perfect and I’m guessing neither is yours, but there’s something sort of comforting about that. Just enjoy your family for what it is: Slightly flawed, but all yours.

Read more: Christmas, Hanukkah, Holidays, Life, Mental Wellness, New Year, Shades of Green, Thanksgiving, , , , ,

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Jana Ballinger

Jana Ballinger has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and copy editor for daily newspapers. She lives in a vintage house in Northern California with her husband and an orange cat.


+ add your own
1:06PM PDT on Jun 21, 2013


10:48AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012


2:46AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Thanks for the helpful info.

1:38PM PST on Dec 22, 2011

I like "lower your expectations" the best. I'm going to!

1:51AM PST on Dec 16, 2011

aha, so good to know

12:43PM PST on Dec 15, 2011

thanks for this article

5:50AM PST on Dec 14, 2011

Let me "biological" family is from hell my adopted family is the BEST!!!! I spend my holidays with them.

5:44AM PST on Dec 14, 2011

Better yet just AVOID them until the holidays are OVER!!!!!! P.S. I have the family from hell!! LOL

6:54PM PDT on Oct 28, 2011

This article makes me realize how lucky I am to have a family that likes to be together.

12:25AM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

Thank you

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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