But is it? There’s a lot of hidden stress during this festive season. The holidays are a time of togetherness, but for those of us who have annoying relatives, that’s not always a good thing. No matter how Rockwell-ian your intentions are, someone will inevitably still grill you with grating questions, someone else will reliably show up an hour and a half late, and no party is complete without someone griping about everything in sight.
What is the best way to survive your family gatherings? Like many things, preparation for their quirks is essential. “It’s like preparing for a debate,” says Jeremy Greenberg, author of Relative Discomfort: The Family Survival Guide, which is a truly amusing read — exactly like you would expect from the internationally renowned comedian. “If you have a game plan ahead of time, it gives you some confidence going into the battle.” So prep for some of the most frustrating family situations.
The Relative: The Complainer (and also The Worrier)
Annoying Trait: With this Debbie Downer, nothing is ever right, and you’ll always hear about it. Perhaps there is a catastrophe waiting just around the corner.
The Remedy: “Don’t drain yourself by trying to get them to look on the bright side,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Don’t go down that rabbit hole. Before you know it, your festive gathering will take on characteristics of a wake. Some people never want to see that glass as being half-full, so acknowledging their comments and then pointedly changing the topic to something positive can be a useful tool. Most likely others in attendance will be grateful for the redirection of the conversation and be willing to help you stay on that track.
The Relative: The Quizmaster
Annoying Trait: This nosy Nelly asks too many personal questions.
The Remedy: Dr. Leonard Felder, author of When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People endorses calm, firm evasiveness. “Answer calmly and enthusiastically. If you aren’t rattled or waffling on these questions, the nosy Nelly will move on.” If you know someone is going to ask you about something (sometimes you just can’t pretend that there is no elephant in the room), maybe you want to bring it up, say your piece, and end that particular conversation, which will allow you to have more control. Then back to my favourite tactic – a change in topic to something positive.
The Relative: The Helpless Dictator
Annoying Trait: Often starts sentences with “Why don’t we (fill in the blank)?”… and in this case “we” means “you”.
The Remedy: There’s nothing like a passive-aggressive person (especially someone who is older than you) trying to manipulate you. Know where your line in the sand is and don’t cross it. Chances are you are busy hosting your gathering and don’t have time to turn yourself inside out trying to meet their demands. If you are too busy, make sure you stand your ground gracefully. No arguments, no feeling guilty, no urge to apologize, and no wasting your energy on trying to change a longtime helplessness pattern with this person.
The Relative: The Slacker Parent
Annoying Trait: Never seems to notice that Tommy is jumping on the couch. Again.
The Remedy: Make sure everyone knows the house rules. Deflect and distract by making sure they bring toys, puzzles, something to do since adult conversation isn’t all that when you’re a kid.
The Relative: The Always Tardy to the Party
Annoying Trait: Being late isn’t always fashionable.
The Remedy: Make your expectations clear. You aren’t going to hold dinner for the person who doesn’t know how to schedule the day because then you’ll have a lot of grumpy and hungry guests at your house while the thought of food smells drives them crazy. If they can’t be on time, tell them they’ll have to make do with whatever leftovers there are. Maybe all they need is a shock to their system and missing out on the start of dinner (or dinner) will be all they need to show up the next time. Or not. But you can’t control everything. You could always tell them to show up earlier than everyone else, with hopes that they’ll end up on time, but this might not continue to work if they catch on to your ploy.
The Relative: The Fighter
Annoying Trait: Short-fused and long on arguments.
The Remedy: Humour is your friend although it might be difficult to find. You can’t put people in time out, which is unfortunate, but you can suggest that the topic get tabled so everyone can focus on enjoying the party. When all else fails? Make sure you have a stash of chocolate. It’s not quite a cure all, but it does come close.
When your gathering is over, make sure you count your blessings and not your problems. Maybe you still need a heartwarming moment. And in that case, I highly recommend WestJet’s 2014 Christmas Miracle: Spirit of Giving. Kleenex is advised.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.