Tips for Enjoying the Holidays With Extended Family

family holiday dinner

The holidays can be both a joyous and stressful time. You may be looking forward to eating Aunt Mary's famous apple crumb cake or dreading seeing your perpetually drunk cousin who always manages to say the most inappropriate thing at exactly the wrong moment. There are some things you can do to ensure that you enjoy the holidays with your extended family members.

Dealing With Family Members You Don't Like

Chances are there is at least one family member who rubs you the wrong way. This can be the aunt who always has to make a comment about your weight or the person who drinks a bit too much wine and spills some on you. However, you're both in the family and you'll therefore have to deal with this person at each family event for many years to come.

  • Stay Busy: If possible, try to find a task to keep you busy but away from the person who annoys you. For example, if the difficult family member likes to hang out in the kitchen, offer to play a game with the younger family members in the living room. While you can't avoid the person altogether, you can limit contact.
  • Prepare Responses Beforehand: If the subject of your weight, marital status or other personal topics are ones that come up with each encounter with this particular family member, prepare a polite but firm response beforehand for each possible attack. Some examples would be "thank you for your concern, but I'm happy with my weight" or "I prefer to talk about something else. Tell me about your trip to Alaska."
  • Don't Let Their Behavior Change Yours: It's tempting to get down in the mud and wallow around with someone when they are snarky, mean and difficult. However, you'll only add another level of intensity to their nastiness and you'll feel badly about it later. Don't ever let another person change who you are and how you prefer to handle difficult situations. If all else fails, simply hold your head high and walk away.

Don't Let Others Derail Your Parenting

No matter what your parenting style is, you can be certain that at least one family member doesn't like it. Someone thinks you are too strict or too lenient. Someone doesn't like the way you allow your children to whine or that you let little Billy run through the middle of a group of adults. Children are children and no matter how great of a parent you really are, they are sometimes loud, sometimes messy and sometimes annoy other people.

You know who you are as a parent. You know how to discipline your children and why you use that form of discipline. You know your child better than anyone and you know what works best .

  • Stick to the Plan: If you normally give a time out for breaking the rules, then find a place to give your child a time out at the family gathering. Just because your mother thinks you should spank your child, does not mean you have to. This is your child and you can respectfully let her know that in your family you use time outs.
  • Let it Go: It seems like there is almost always that one aunt who has never been married, never had children, but feels the need to tell you how to handle your marriage and raise your child. Smile at her and ignore what she has to say. She really doesn't understand children and she definitely doesn't understand your child. When she says, "You know, if you would tell him no to another cookie, he wouldn't whine," just smile and nod and hand your child another cookie if that's what you want to do.
  • Don't Take Frustrations Out on the Kids: When the stress of a holiday with extended family gets to be too much, it is easy to snap at others out of frustration. Those you are most likely to lash out at are those closest to you, such as your spouse or children. Resist this urge. It's hard to enjoy the holidays when everyone is bickering. Go outside and scream into a tree if you have to, but avoid taking frustrations out on those you love the most.

Set a Few Boundaries

Boundaries are important, especially if you find holidays with your family stressful. Whether your boundaries are about drugs and alcohol, food, or how you're treated, set some boundaries and stick to them. Some boundaries you might want to consider:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: No drinking/drugs around you or your children.
  • Children: No one is to touch or correct your child but you (example would be a family member who tries to spank someone else's child).
  • Food: You will not eat food that you are allergic to or simply don't wish to eat. It is your body and you have a right to decide what goes into it.
  • Abuse: You will not tolerate screaming matches or cursing.

Setting boundaries may mean that you have to make a tough decision to walk away from a family gathering before it's over. Should your boundaries be violated even after you've made them clear, simply let everyone know that you are going to go ahead and leave but you love them all and will see them next year.

Handling Stress Without Losing Your Mind

Even if your family doesn't have a drunk member, everyone is as nice as can be and you like everyone present, the holidays can still be stressful. Perhaps your family is large and you don't like crowds. Perhaps there are a lot of extended family, blended family and others invited whom you don't know very well. Whatever the reason, having a plan to handle stress is important.

  • Live in the Real World: The Mayo Clinic staff suggests one way to handle holiday stress and avoid depression is to not expect every holiday to be perfect or even like last year's get together. Things change as families grow, so try your best to live in the moment.
  • Take Care of Yourself: Learn a few deep breathing exercises, take up yoga and eat healthy and exercise. If you feel better before you attend the event, you'll be better able to handle any stress that crops up during the event.
  • Mentally Prepare: One of the things taught in Dale Carnegie motivational workshops is to imagine the absolute worst thing you think might happen and how you'll react to it. More than likely, what really occurs will not be as bad as you imagined, but if it is, you'll be ready for it.

Taking an Interest in Others

One of the joyful parts of the holiday season is catching up with extended family you may not have seen in a while. Take an interest in their lives and use the time to catch up with those you love.

  • Visit Social Media: Before your family get together, visit social media and take a mental note of what your family members have been up to. Has someone just started college, had a baby, or taken a trip? These are all good topics for discussion.
  • Ask What's New: If the family member isn't on social media, simply ask him what is new in his life and make sure you take the time to really listen.

Remembering Family Members Who've Passed

According to Psychology Today, Christmas is a time of year that there are "high incidences of suicide." About 45% of people dread the holidays. There are many reasons for depression during the holidays, but one reason is missing loved ones. The holidays tend to bring up memories of better times. By taking the time to treasure those memories, you can ease depression for yourself and others who might be missing the person.

  • Share a Memory: Have every family member take a turn and tell a special memory or funny story about the loved one who is gone.
  • Start a New Tradition: Start a new tradition to honor the person's memory. Some ideas include having everyone bring some canned items to donate to a local food shelter, attending a religious service together or singing a special song.
  • Special Recipes: Is there a dish that the loved one always made and everyone loved? Try to find the family member's recipe and have someone make it each year. This will bring back warm memories.

Making Happy Memories

Even if your family drives you crazy, they are still your family. Take the time to make happy memories each year, do your best to deal with the stresses of large gatherings and enjoy those who are still here with you. Even if there are difficult moments, there will still be happy memories that will last many years into the future.

Tips for Enjoying the Holidays With Extended Family