Your tickets are booked, your suitcases are packed, you’re all set to invade the home of your parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and in-laws (or maybe they’re even coming to you?) and now you’re starting to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.
While you love all your family dearly, the cramped living space as you and the kids bunk up in the spare room, spending day in, day out with people you haven’t seen for months and trying to keep the little ones happy without all your usual resources can make you want to buy a one-way trip to the North Pole.
Pile on top of this the pressure to have the perfect holiday season and you’re at your wit's end before anyone’s even pulled a Christmas cracker.
So how do you avoid it all when a family feud seems inevitable? Here’s our guide to surviving the holidays with your loved ones…
Families at Xmas can be trying
1. Employ parent patience
So you’re not sure when you’re mum turned into your harshest critic or why your brother-in-law chose precisely that moment to crack one of his many inappropriate jokes, but just remember, you’ve faced down far tougher crowds than this. You’ve endured mid-supermarket toddler meltdowns and stayed sane during sleepless nights cleaning up toxic spills of vomit and poop. You’ve got this. Just imagine that everyone around you is as vulnerable and sensitive as a two-year-old and you’ll be dealing with their unreasonable grumbles and mood swings with a saint-like patience. You might not be able to use the naughty step but you can count to ten before answering a pointed question or suggest everyone take a break when folks get grouchy. Nap time anyone?
Resolving conflict is easier said than done
2. See the other side
The bigger the gathering, the more potential there is for conflict. In fact, professor of psychology at Northwestern University Eli Finkel has a theory that when families get together they descend into fighter ‘types’ that egg each other on in an argument situation.
There’s ‘The Trigger’ person who typically initiates a row by acting out or taking offense to a real or imagined slight. Finkel says this person views themselves as the ‘family outsider’ most of the time. There's ‘The Prosecutor’ who is often a sibling frustrated by The Trigger’s behaviour and tells them to get a grip. ‘The Defender’ or ‘The Peacemaker’ is someone who seeks to resolve conflict by trying to diffuse the situation and who tends to remain calm. ‘The Enabler’ wants the conflict to end, but frequently acts in a way that unintentionally exacerbates the situation. Apparently this is often the role of the mother, who wants everyone to get along.
Sound familiar? Finkel concludes that a key way to resolve conflict is to be prepared to see each other’s perspectives. Perhaps it sounds obvious advice, but in large family get-togethers we often lose a chance to connect with individual members as we’re too busy participating in activities as a group. If you haven’t seen someone in a while, volunteer to prep veg with them, or assist them with last-minute present buying and use the time to remind yourself where each person is coming from. This will stand you in good stead if things get heated and you’ll be able to take a step back to reframe things from their point of view.
What would Elsa do?
3. Let it go
By ‘it’ we mean control – of everything. The food, the entertainment, the traditions. It’s unlikely that any of your carefully laid plans will go exactly as expected when large numbers are involved. A survey run by UK hotel company Travel Lodge revealed that a majority of family stress arises from people trying to have things their way: Over half (55%) of people asked said their Christmastime arguments are caused by a pressure to organise the perfect day. The solution is to lower expectations and let people who really want to take control have it. 43% of the survey takers said conflict had arisen in their houses from guests getting in the way of the cooking process and a quarter of households have tiffs caused by mums stressing about an overcooked turkey. So never has the expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ been truer than when you’re all arguing about which kind of stuffing is best (for the record, it’s sage and onion). Accept that things will always go a little differently in the company of extended family and you’ll be happier for it.
Let other relatives have quality time with the kids
4. Take advantage of the extra hands
A simple but rewarding concept: You now have a small army of babysitters at your disposal who don’t spend enough time with your little ones. Make the most of it! Encourage your less toddler-bound relatives to occupy the kids while you sneak a moment to yourself. And before you wonder if this seems a little selfish, remind yourself that the less tired you are the better it’ll be for everyone: when you can see the rewards of having a family unit you’re much less likely to lose your patience with it. Just remember to be prepared to loosen their routine around this time. The kids are likely to stay up a bit later if their fun uncle is on duty or get one more sweet than you’d normally allow from Granny. But it IS Christmas so turn a blind eye this once.
Monopoly: Play with caution
5. Remember why you’re there
When you're at each other’s throats around the Monopoly board take a moment to think about how lucky you are to have a group of loved ones to bicker and squabble with. While it’s unusual for families not to fight about some small thing over the festive period, Christmas is overwhelmingly listed as one of the happiest days of the year for those who celebrate it. The conclusion? A fight or two is normal and once the dust has settled you’ll be glad you came and just about ready to do it all over again – that is, in another 364 days’ time.
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