If you have older children, you know that they eventually reach the age when they are much more aware of their surroundings and the family dynamic. They begin to notice grandpa’s idiosyncrasies, they pick up on the tension between mom and grandma, and they don’t like Uncle Stan’s cigarette breath and phlegmy morning cough.
The holidays bring all of these people and situations together to create the perfect storm for family turmoil and blowups. What is touted as a season of peace and joy is oftentimes, in actuality, a season of “pour some extra rum in my eggnog, please, so that I don’t care about Aunt Sally’s nagging, condescending advice.”
There’s at least one in every family – one family member whom everyone dreads, whom stories are told about for years to come and who seems completely unaware of – or who simply doesn’t care about – your own personal family dynamic, “the way we do things around here.” As your children age, they will become more aware of these interlopers, and they will resent their intrusion into your home and into your coveted traditions.
I am definitely NOT an expert in this field. Let me rephrase that – I am an expert in the experience, but I have yet to solve the problem. There are just some people who are toxic, and no amount of patience or kindness changes that. But what I have learned over the years is that what is more important, by far, is how you let these family members affect your own children. Here are some tools we have used in our house to survive visits from those who are nearly intolerable:
1. Try to have fun with it. A discreet smile, wink, or exchanged look goes a long way in acknowledging the humor in a situation. We’ve even kept a quote list of some of the absurd comments that have been made and laughed until we cried reading over it.
2. Set bottom lines that you will not allow relatives to cross. In our house, racist statements are not permitted. We don’t start fights with grandma over them, but we quickly change the subject and clearly send the message that we don’t tolerate stereotyping and unfair judgments.
3. Be flexible in your willingness to accommodate guests, but do not allow yourself to be railroaded or steamrolled into giving up your own family traditions. Protect what is important to your family but teach your children that graciousness toward others is also important.
4. Get out of the house and stay busy. Sitting around shooting the breeze might leave you wanting to shoot Cousin Phil. Plus, staying busy makes everyone tired, so they’re more likely to hit the bed early or take a nap, giving everyone a much-needed break from each other.
5. Pray. Sometimes, when all of the weapons in your arsenal have been exhausted, you realize that only a Higher Power can help you now.