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8 Tips to Survive Holiday Time with Your Family

Family stressing you out this holiday season? Here are eight tips to help you survive family time.

By
Amanda Thomas
7-minute read
Episode #183

The holidays are a wonderful time where all your loved ones come together to celebrate. Everyone hugs, expresses their love and appreciation for each other, and lives in merry spirits for the time you are all gathered. What? That doesn’t sound like your family? Don’t worry, my family isn’t perfect either, and it can really show during the holidays.

In reality, there are often stresses that come along with bringing a bunch of family members together, keeping them under one roof, and insisting that everyone is festive, happy, and bonding for the duration of the celebrations. In an effort to help you have more enjoyable holiday time with your family this season, I asked a few close friends for their tips for coping with family time. I compiled their tips with a few others that I personally use, and came up with a list of eight things you can do to help create happy holiday memories instead of stressed out situations.

1.) Know Your Roles

Earlier this year, I talked about a vacation that my entire family took together. It was great, but we were driving each other nuts for a few days as we got into a groove of who did what tasks around the house we rented. What we realized is that things went much smoother when everyone was fully aware of the roles and tasks they needed to fulfill during each day. When everyone tried to help cook dinner, we were stepping on each other and getting frustrated. When one person was assigned to cooking, one to set the table, one to cleaning the kitchen after the meal, one to unloading the dishwasher, and everyone else was assigned to stay out of the way, things went much smoother.

During the holidays it’s easy for everyone to try and jump into the kitchen to try and help. Most people gathering have been living on their own, maintaining their own households and fully able to cook a meal, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be in the kitchen at the same time. The person who is hosting should (nicely) take charge of the situation and make sure that the others in the family know what they can do to help things go smoothly. Take turns rotating tasks throughout the holidays so no one gets burned out on specific tasks, but make sure that everyone is clear on where they need to be when.

2.) Rehearse Your Responses

My grandmother is a wonderful woman. She was a large part of my childhood, so I got a lot of great qualities from her: my work ethic, a strong sense of self, and a determined can-do attitude. The one thing I didn’t from her was a love of Fox News and a super conservative political stance. I’m not the most liberal one in my family, but even I have to prepare mentally to have a conversation with Grandma about anything she’s seen in the news lately.

Now, I could try and take a stance and try to educate my grandmother about my point of view on things like immigration, world religions, and other hot button issues, but the reality is that she’s 94 years old, lives a typical small town life, and nothing I say is going to really change her mind about the opinions she’s been gathering for the last ten decades. What I can do is prepare my responses to make sure that I stay calm and let her know that I love her. My responses tend to be along the lines of, “That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and, “I haven’t heard that in the news I follow.” If she wants to ask me more about my views, she can. If not, she feels like I listened, and that’s what matters most.

You know your family, and you can probably predict some of the topics of conversation that are going to come up during your time together. Write out and even practice responses that can help keep the peace. Remember that, just as strongly as you feel about your views, they feel the same about theirs, so witty or information-packed responses aren’t usually going to get you anything but a debate. Be the bigger person by having your calm responses ready to go when they start going down that road.

3.) Say YES

It’s so easy to get stuck saying no during the holidays. It can be emotionally tough to get through days or weeks with family, but the more you say, “Yes,” the more memories you’ll be creating for later. I’m an introvert, so trust that I know the struggle to accept an invitation when all I want to do is hide in my bedroom. The more you tell others that you WILL help them make cookies, that you WILL play a game with them, or that you WILL go on a walk with them, the more time you are going to get to spend with those you love. And, if you’re like me, those times when you say yes can turn out to be some of the memories that stick with you for years. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to create memories with your family.

4.) Get Out of the House

On the flip side, you do not need to spend every waking moment with your family. In fact, you need to make time to decompress and recharge. Depending on how well your family communicates, you may be able to tell them that you need some time alone to recharge, or you may need to sneak away with a good excuse.

If the weather is nice, you can go for a walk around the neighborhood or even just sit at a park drinking a hot beverage. If the weather is icky, head to the mall, go see a movie, or go out to dinner with a friend from the past. If you’re getting to your wits' end with your family, do what you can to get a little quiet time by yourself to gather your thoughts before heading back in to the group.

5.) Pick Your Battles

This tip is similar to #2, but instead of rehearsing responses, you'll need to consider what is most important to you regarding difficult situations. You can fight over who is going to cook and clean, or you can give in and just go with what someone else wants. Hopefully if they see you compromise, it will encourage them to compromise the next time.

This tip also applies to family traditions, including religious celebrations. If your family has a long-time tradition of going to Christmas Eve services, that night is not the time to take a stand on how you think organized religion is the demise of modern day society. Likewise, if you’ve converted to another religion from your family, do what you can to take part in your family’s traditions, while still finding ways to meet your own needs. You don’t have to change what you feel in your heart and mind, but sometimes all your grandma wants for Christmas is your butt in the church pew next to her.

6.) Play with the Kids

If you find yourself getting stressed out, try joining the kids for a while. And by joining the kids, I don’t mean to insert yourself as the babysitter or fuddy-duddy adult with them, I mean REALLY join them in their fun. If they’re playing make believe, let go of your adultness and use your imagination. If they are going ice skating, slip on a pair and skate circles around them. Not only are kids more fun than adults, but they are also less judgmental. Join them in their world for an hour or so, and you may just be ready to go back to the grown up table.

7.) Exercise

When you’re stressed, one of the best things you can do is a quick workout. Not only will you get to work out some aggressions, it can get your endorphins up, too. Both of those things can get help you adjust your attitude to be able to better handle awkward conversations and situations that can arise between family members. Whether you’re able to get to a gym, or are confined to your mom’s basement, you can still get in a good workout. There are numerous apps and online videos that can take you through gym-worthy workout in even a small guest room. Do a little searching online, and you’ll be able to find a facility or online workout that can help you work up a sweat.

8.) Designate No-Technology Times

The last times my family has gotten together, there have been discussions about cell phones, tablets, and computers. From the adults trying to get some work done, or the teens who seem to be constantly talking to their friends, everyone needs a little motivation to walk away from their electronics. The most common time to ban electronics is when you are gathered around a table in a meal, but you may also want to set up a rule that one or two nights have no electronics from 5 p.m. on, including the TV.

To make sure that no one goes stir crazy, have card and board games, puzzles, crafts, or other activities ready to keep everyone busy. Even in the technologically connected world we live in, people of all ages can still find enjoyment through hands-on activities. Have a few choices so people can break into smaller groups to do together. You may also want to have a stash of books and magazines ready for those who want some quiet during the no-screen time. No matter what you decide to do during this time, it’s bound to bring you together at least a little bit more than if you were all talking over your personal screens.

Holidays can be a really wonderful time for families to get together, as long as everyone puts a little time and energy into making sure things go smoothly. What are your tricks for getting through extended time with your family? I’d love to hear them! Post them on my Facebook wall, or share them in the comment section below.

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.