10 Tips for Surviving Family Holidays

Vegans versus carnivores,
early risers waking night owls,
smokers teasing runners…

For any routine or belief you follow, there’s bound to be a disapproving family member. Holidays with family should be fun, but a clash of conflicting opinions can result in more stress than enjoyment. How do you stay firm to what you want out of your holiday while maintaining the peace? Here are tips for a smoother holiday gathering for guests and hosts alike…

1. Discuss Your Plans Before the Visit

Communicate with extended family before you arrive.  Whether you want to visit a childhood friend or see the new action-hero movie, stating your desires before the holiday will manage expectations, resulting in reduced conflict and guilt.  To your sister-in-law: “I’m in awe of how you always know the coolest galleries to visit. Our lives are crazy and exhausting, so we are planning to chill out and do our puzzles by the fire. You go gallery hopping and we’ll be happy hanging out at the house.  There will be plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company later.”

2. Take Care of Your Needs

If you have specific dietary needs, bring your own food with some to share. Let your host know that you will need to food shop when you arrive. “Even though I love your cooking, I will be sticking to my diet so that I feel my best.” Ask when your daily run best fits into the host’s scheduled activities. Bring your own pillow and ear plugs, or download a white noise app and make sure you get a room farthest from any snorers.

3. Make a Daily Plan

Creating a plan alleviates stress if your family is indecisive or time is limited. Assign someone to come up with a daily schedule of optional activities so everyone can choose what they want to do and no time is wasted negotiating. Uncle Jim will know if his bike ride plans coincide with brunch.

4. Everyone Knows What They Need

Just like you know what’s best for you, remember that everyone else knows what is best for them. Let it go if someone doesn’t want to try your favorite yoga pose or drink your concoction to cure their stuffy nose. Talk in terms of “this works for me,” not “you should do this.” If someone is interested in your herbal remedies, they will ask for more information.

5. Over-communicate

Err on the side of sharing pertinent information, even if it feels like over-communicating. Let everyone know ahead of time that you take your children to the park after lunch every day or that the planned holiday movie isn’t appropriate for your kids. The more information you share beforehand about what you need for your family, the less conflict there will be.

6. Let Go of Differences

You aren’t going to convince Uncle Charlie to vote for a Democrat and he isn’t going to convince you to switch sides either. Agree to disagree and look for your common ground: you both love Aunt Holly’s pies. Remember his good qualities – the great advice he offered when you were thinking of buying a motorcycle. If there is a bully in your family who keeps after you, simply say, “I hope that you can be happy for me, even though I haven’t followed the path you would have taken.” Criticism is the critic’s problem. In a cheerful voice acknowledge their suggestion, “I know that if it were your kitchen, you would love it to be periwinkle. Pete and I adore this buttermilk yellow.” Can’t take it any longer? Volunteer to run an errand and get some breathing space while doing a good deed.

7. Manage Your Expectations

If there is a history of family drama ensuing by the third day, try playing a private game of “dysfunctional family bingo.” Instead of being irritated by the appalling things that relatives do, smile because you just scored when Aunt Margaret asked you if there is a wedding date yet. Stay at a hotel so that you have a refuge. Keep your visits short to avoid the meltdown. Or, consider skipping the visit all together to spend time with people who appreciate you.

8. Be a Model Guest

A small hostess gift is a nice way to set the tone. Pick up after yourself and pitch in to help cook or clean. Offer to oversee a meal or all the breakfasts. Manage your alcohol consumption so that you can be even-keeled. Strip your bed and ask where your dirty linens should go. Be cognizant of differing bedtimes. Leave a thank you note or flowers.

9. Playing Host Doesn’t Mean Doing It All

Ask for help if you always get stuck doing all the cooking, cleaning and shopping. Assign meal preparation to different families. Declare breakfast or lunch “on your own meals.” Focus on quality time with loved ones instead of exhausting yourself creating the perfect dinner. If you always get stuck with the restaurant tab, take the initiative to ask the waitress for separate bills. Alert your guests to standing appointments that you will attend, such as your choir practice, so they can plan accordingly.

10. Show Your Gratitude While Being True to Yourself

Choose the three most important things that you want for your visit, be firm about your plan to do them and then let the rest go. Compliment your family on the things you appreciate about them. Admiration goes a long way to make people feel understood and spreads positive feelings to heighten the holiday spirit.

About the author

Rebecca Reimers Cristol

Rebecca is a Life and Business coach who guides her clients to
find work/life balance, gain clarity and incorporate self-care into
their lives. She is based in Williamsburg and can be found at

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