Thursday, November 27, 2008

"No Jury In The World Would Convict Me!": Surviving Your Family Holidays!

If your family is at all like mine you probably remember the time when your father got drunk at your uncle's house on Christmas eve and insisted on wrestling with you and the relatives had to step in and break it up to stop him from breaking the furniture.

Or perhaps you recall the time your father's friend, whom he invited to stay the weekend over Thanksgiving when you where 16 tried to put the moves on you and your dad just laughed. Or the time your parents forgot you were with them and accidentally left you at the mall one Christmas.

But, the real recurring family trauma tends to be not those never-to-be-forgotten debacles you can tell your grand-children, but those every-single-year events where you KNOW what your relative is going to say. And you're all tense because you KNOW they're just waiting to say it. It happens every year. It's going to come up. And of course, it does.


"So have you found a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?"
"You'll just have to lower your sights a bit. One can't be too choosy at your age!"
"When are you two going to get married/start a family?"
"Can you really afford that?"
"Didn't you just give up smoking recently?"
"When are you going to stop fooling around and get a real job?"
"That's ok dear. You'll find a man. You poor thing! We'll just all keep praying for you."

To be followed shortly by:
"Well, you're hitting the bottle a bit early today aren't you?"
My personal favorite is my dad's annual taunt: "You're getting a bit LARDY there! Getting a bit of a gut on you! Now I can still fit into my size 29 pants just like when I was in the Navy! Blah, blah, blah."

My family used to have a yearly Christmas sport of the "family argument." Everybody had a role in the fight and the results were pre-ordained.

No matter how many years pass. All you have to do is enter your family home and by magic you are now 9 years old again. It never fails. No matter how many times you tell yourself "I'm not going to react to Stella when she tells me I'm overweight" the minute she opens her mouth all our good resolve goes out the window. Family get under your skin.

But everything doesn't have to end up like this! There are options:

1. Realize that it could always be worse, and actually IS in other people's families: Like this poor woman whose mother-in-law threw her out of the house when they came to visit over Christmas holiday and she had have her parents wire money so she could fly home alone - her idiot husband didn't want to leave!

If that doesn't help:

2. This guy's advice seems some of the best: "I always respond 'Thank you for your input!'" when relatives say something insensitive that they KNOW is going to get under your skin that might be the best way to react.

3. Gretchin Rubin has: "7 Ways To Get Along With Your Relatives Over Thanksgiving" the best of which is probably the simple but underrated "don't stuff yourself and don't drink too much" concluding that "I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent."

Unfortunately, we can't always moderate the behavior of our relatives!

So perhaps the best advice is to surrender the idea of control. Many people have a mental image in their minds of "how the holiday should go." Perhaps it's a Halmark Family Christmas, perhaps it's just that "I pray uncle Charlie won't get drunk and try and feel up my date this year."

But, nothing ever goes the way it "should." And it's this "should" that causes so much stress. I was a self-expression coach a year ago and one woman in my group actually bought two Christmas trees every year -- one for her 8 year old daughter to decorate, and one to decorate "the right way" because having the decorations not evenly distributed over the tree in the "proper" fashion bothered her.

Needless to say that Christmas was such a stressful time of year for her that she emerged from the holidays totally exhausted and in need of a "vacation."

Imagine the "lesson" this taught to her poor daughter that nothing she ever did was "good enough." And of course, this woman was only carrying on the "lessons" of her own childhood that SHE wasn't good enough.

For some reason the holidays bring out the worst in some relatives.

But, you can accept that although you're NOT going to be able to prevent Aunt Muriel and your mom from fighting if they insist on fighting again this year, YOU don't have to become emotionally involved in it. The key is to give up the idea that things "shouldn't be like this."

You may be able to help by making a public declaration of your commitment to family peace this year, but be prepared to back it up if push comes to shove.

Overall having a sense of humor helps best and not taking yourself too seriously is a big advantage. So, instead of yelling at my father when he tells me "looks like you're getting a little lardy there!" I can always tell him "I'd prefer you didn't comment on my weight because it bothers me." Or, you can say "maybe you have some exercise tips for me!"

It couldn't hurt. And remember that whatever happens over the holidays, January 1st is only around the corner.