The tradition of holiday family gatherings is a time-honored way to come together and reinvigorate the family bond. It secures the feeling of belonging, inclusion, and affection — important aspects of emotional well-being. More than that, there’s a certain magic in holiday events that brings joy and happiness to the family.
For some families, a wholesome gathering doesn’t come naturally. Between opinionated clashes on politics, nosiness, and relatives with a flair for the dramatic. Some family gatherings can be an exercise of tolerance and patience. With a little planning, you can turn a challenging group into a positive bonding experience.
No one enjoys being left out. Make sure all of your family members feel included and wanted. If you have relatives with special dietary needs, make sure there’s food and drink on hand for them. Don’t hesitate to reach out and see what works best. That amount of care shows them they are wanted and their well-being is important.
Be inclusive of the workload as well. Make sure everyone has a task. This prevents family members from feeling overwhelmed. Also encourages other members to have a stake in the success of the event.
Honor the Sad Times
When the family gets together, it’s natural to talk about the good times — and the bad. Don’t dismiss conversation about sad subjects or abruptly change the subject for fear of it being a downer. Support your family. Let them be heard. Talk about departed family members. Discussing sad topics in a supportive way can help heal your family’s hurts.
Plan a Tension Breaker
If your family always goes off the rails at a certain point, or you’re worried about a political conversation getting to be too heated, plan an “impromptu" event. The event can be anything you can start at a moment’s notice, like taking a walk or playing a game. Even moving from one room to another can break the flow of an unpleasant discussion. It presents the opportunity for you to change to a more positive, pleasant conversation.
Turn the Disappointments Into an Inside Joke
Sometimes trying to change people is just impractical to the point of futility. In those cases, the only thing you can do is change your perspective on the behavior. Turn it into an inside joke — even if the only person in on the joke is you. If you try to see the situation with humor and levity, it won’t bother you nearly as much.
Let Go of Expectations
The holidays might be the most magical time of the year but beware of expecting too much. When you set your expectations too high, it’s easy to get disappointed. Oftentimes those high expectations are not fair to the people around you. If you’re in charge of planning the gathering (or food), high expectations can be unfair to you. Let the little things go, and do what you’re comfortable with. Delegate tasks (it’s a good way to include others!).
Keep Your Good Intentions Close and Your Positivity Closer
Maybe Aunt Linda pesters you every year about why you’re not married. Perhaps Uncle Bob talks down about your career. Little things like this can build up and eventually ruin a family gathering. Adjust your perspective to assume that all of these questions come from a place of positive intent — Aunt Linda wants you to be happy. Uncle Bob wants you to feel happier in your work life. Perhaps they pester you with nosy questions because they miss you, and want to know more about your life. If you try to see these behaviors from a new perspective, one that comes from a place of understanding and positivity, you’ll enjoy your time with your family — no matter the occasion — that much more, for years to come.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
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