“Families, can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” – Tate Hallaway
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you might be looking forward to spending the holidays with family. Or not. Perhaps you can and do live with them. Perhaps a dozen are about to descend on your doorstep on a small amount of time. Perhaps they are “mostly sweet, but with a few nuts” (anonymous). Or perhaps “[f]amily is just accident…. They don’t mean to get on your nerves. They don’t even mean to be your family, they just are,” as Marsha Norman says. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, during this season of holiday cheer and thanks, to know that you did your utmost to simply get along and love the heck out of them the best way you knew how, to walk away from some of the arguments knowing that “winning” is about not having the last word? And if you struggle with this, never fear, you are not alone. In the meantime, grab a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie before the chaos hits, and take a look at these tips for how to get along with family.
1. Focus on something fun and not on family. This may seem like a paradox. After all, you did come together to spend time together, right? What this means is, especially when the going gets tough, plan on doing something along the lines of watching a comedy or going out to a comedy club or seeing an entertaining show of some sorts. The idea is that you will experience laughter together even if you aren’t actually interacting. The pressure is off. You don’t need to think of what to say or do. Just relax and laugh. It will certainly leave everyone in a better mood, and you’ll come out of it having had an effortlessly positive experience together.
2. Consider time on as well as solo time off. Make sure you’re not together 24/7 as for some families this is a recipe for disaster. Even if you this means you head out for a solo movie, go make that phone call (lifeline, anyone?), take a drive to get that jug of milk, check the mail, walk the dog, find something to get you out of the house for at least a few minutes, so you can clear the air and be on your own.
3. Some pre-planning can go a long way. Choose some activities you know everyone will like. Check out that tourist attraction everyone talks about, but somehow you’ve never been to. Create options, so people don’t get bored.
4. At the same time, don’t overplan. No one likes their vacation to be ruined by someone who is overly controlling. In other words, some planning goes a long way, but too much is stifling. This means downtime. Give yourself some space for downtime when you’re not running around, cooking, talking, planning. Relax.
5. Notice when your body starts to tighten. Your mother just said something you can’t stand. A knot just formed in the pit of your stomach. This is a signal that you need to get away. Check that text message. Use the bathroom. Check the baby. Change the music. Study a recipe. Use the tension in your body as good feedback that you need to check out for a moment.
6. Consider active listening. This means putting your attention completely on someone else, then mirroring back to them (without added vocal inflection) what you heard them say. This means the person really feels like you listened. Here’s a great example.
7. Comfort foods. Make sure you get food that each individual loves, so everyone has their comfort foods. If you don’t like how someone eats, it might be time to take a deep breath, and simply get some of that food. The recipient will feel happier which means you’ll also benefit. In addition, take time to plan the menu, so you can get ingredients ahead of time which means less stress.
8. Monitor alcohol intake. Sure, the holidays are a time to celebrate and for some, cut loose a bit, but know your limits. Certainly you know the line between tipsy and drunk. For some, drunk means arguments and saying unforgivable things. Is that extra cocktail, those extra glasses of wine worth it? Probably not.
9. Take responsibility and apologize. Even if what you said or did wasn’t intended to hurt someone, sometimes it does hurt someone. Here is a great process for apologies.
(by William McNeill)
10. Pick your battles. Do you have to fight everything? Is it worth it trying to argue about mincing vs. dicing an onion? Let some of the small stuff slide. And as for the large stuff, consider whether or not Thanksgiving dinner is actually the right time to hash out the larger issues.
Family is truly the place where we can feel the most held, the most loved, and the most emotionally triggered. Before family arrives along with the holidays, take time to set a few intentions about how you want to be during that time. Then, cut yourself some slack, and simply do the best you can. After all, holidays don’t have to bring out the worst in people. Sometimes the spirit of generosity shines through, and you truly get to see your family as amazing.