I was once told by an older gentleman that it is not a true family gathering unless one person leaves crying and another leaves in a huff.
There is a lot of truth in this humorous remark.
Family, by definition, are the people who you have to be with this time of year. When you put too many divergent personalities together in a room, there is bound to be friction. Now that the opening act of Thanksgiving is over and all of the relatives have safely returned home, it is time to gear up yet again for the main event: Christmas week. How does one adequately prepare for even more quality time as children, spouses, in-laws — and the occasional stray dog that always seems to end up as part of the scene — arrive? If that is not enough, this time you might even get snowed in with them.
Family dynamics can be tamed by minding the “C” word. Communication is the key to preventing 90 percent of the snot and tears among family members. Those who can calmly and effectively speak with each other will get along much better than the hot-heads who take the bait every time.
Disengage: It goes without saying, someone will always blurt out something stupid. Don’t take the ritual ribbing or intrusive inquiry so seriously. This time, let it roll off your shoulders. The truth is, none of the usual irritations deserve the emphasis that they are given. Family are the people who have known you forever, hence they are the most equipped to push your buttons.
Regardless of the circumstances, put on a happy face and be positive. People tend to shy away from going after the one who is smiling and at ease. Grimaces are magnets for those who want to needle. Familial drama can only affect you if you buy into it. If one stays above the fray, the barbs fall short.
Follow this mantra of disengagement one step further by prepping your family inner circle not to get involved in any B.S. Take the opportunity in the car ride over to the dinner to be abundantly clear about what topics are off of the table and who to stay clear of.
If there is lingering ill will from years past, call that family member who you think has something to stir up and try to to smooth the road prior to the holiday. Everyone loves an audience, but no one will be able to cross hairs with someone who just won’t bite.
Humor (not biting sarcasm) can be the simplest method of disarming any would be rabble-rouser. This will catch even the most hardened nudge off guard and send them into retreat. Additionally others who bear witness to your new approach will inevitably ramp down their assaults.
If all else fails, maintain a comfortable distance from whomever it is that needs to be on the offensive. You may even make a new BFF keeping company with family you barely knew.
As we are all painfully aware, you can choose your friends but most definitely cannot choose your relatives. George Bernard Shaw put it best when he said: "When our relatives are at home, we have to think of all their good points or it would be impossible to endure them.”
Taking this into account, breathe a sigh of relief that in most cases, extended families do not see each other often, so use this rare opportunity for togetherness and try to embrace it. One never knows what can happen year to year. Go with the flow, make your parents (or their memory) happy by doing your best to get along with the crew and, most importantly, set a good example for your children. History will repeat itself. If you, as an adult, cannot take the high road a few times a year and treat your family with a modicum of respect, don't be surprised when 20 years from now, you find yourself at a table with your own children and grandchildren who cannot get along. Think of the good and try your best to build bridges for everyone's sake.