If you’ve been living solo for a while, the holiday season may mark the first time you’ll see your extended family in a long time. You may already be dreading spending your long weekends cooped up with nosy aunts and spoiled cousins!
Though we can’t give you your PTO back, we can help you maintain your sanity during family festivities. Keep your holiday season delightful— not dreadful — with these tips for dealing with difficult family members this holiday season.
Step up your self-care before, during, and after family time.
No matter how much you love your family, dealing with difficult relatives can be draining. Make sure you’re not pouring from an empty cup, so to speak, by giving yourself extra time for self-care practices in the time leading up to, during, and following family gatherings.
Step away from the group to do something that recharges you, like journaling, calling a friend, or taking a walk by yourself. The more depleted your mental energy becomes, the less likely you are to handle sticky family situations with grace, so make it a habit to check in with yourself and take a few minutes to recharge whenever you need to.
Steer the conversation with neutral topics and questions.
Maybe you don’t want to spend holidays with extended family because you know you’ll be dealing with your uncle’s political banter or listening to your cousin rehash the drama that happened at her sister’s wedding last summer.
Now is not the time for confrontation or “family therapy,” and fortunately, you can play a big part in keeping things light and fun. If you make an effort to steer the conversation, the likelihood of controversial topics arising in your discussions can diminish — at least somewhat.
Here are a few questions to ask your family at dinner to get things going (and stay in a safe conversational territory).
Neutral conversation-starters for family gatherings:
- What’s your favorite memory from a past holiday?
- What was your first job?
- What was your wedding day like?
- What do you remember about the days your children were born?
- What’s your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
- Have you seen any good movies or shows lately?
- What’s something you’re excited about over the next few months?
- What’s your favorite holiday tradition (or movie, or food, etc.)?
- What’s something you’re grateful for?
If things still take a turn for the worst, you can say something like, “Let’s give the rest of the family the gift of a break from that topic, what do you say?” or be even more direct with “Let’s change the subject; I don’t want to discuss this.” Don’t be afraid to speak up!
Think about a response to personal questions in advance.
Your family is well-meaning, but sometimes they can ask questions you don’t want to answer. How are you supposed to reply to, “When are you getting married?” anyway?! While you can’t always anticipate what family members will ask, you can develop an effective way to divert nearly any personal question.
Think of a few things in your life that are going well right now — or at the very least, some topics you’d be willing to talk about with family — and change the subject to those things. For example, if someone springs a personal question about why you aren’t dating someone, you can chuckle and respond, “I don’t know about that. Hey, I got a promotion at work last month. I really love my work right now. How’s your job going?” If they persist or bring it up again, you can be more direct with a response like, “I’d prefer not to talk about that,” or you can remove yourself from the situation entirely, which leads us to our next tip…
Have an exit plan.
Sometimes, when you’re dealing with difficult family members, you need to step away. If you’re anticipating stressful situations, plan your getaway in advance. This can mean excusing yourself for a few moments of solitude in the bathroom, knowing when to return to your hotel for the night, or even being prepared to leave the situation entirely by packing up and heading home early. It’s okay to need some separation!
Limit or avoid time with family during the holidays altogether.
Speaking of separation, here’s the thing: if you don’t want to spend holidays with extended family, you don’t have to. You always have the option to do something completely different, like hosting a holiday dinner with nearby friends or neighbors. Of course, making your own plans for the holidays may come with consequences you don’t want to deal with (like hurt feelings), but in the end, it truly is YOUR decision whether you attend family gatherings.
If you’re not ready to give a big, hard “NO” to your family gatherings, consider a compromise. For example, you don’t have to schlep half your belongings to your parents’ house and essentially move back in with family for a week or two. Instead, cut your trip down to 2 or 3 days. You’ll still get to see everyone and celebrate, but you’ll save yourself from the depletion that comes from dealing with difficult family members for long periods.
Create a safe haven for yourself.
You can get through almost anything as long as you have something — or somewhere — else to look forward to, right? If you’re exhausted after spending the holidays with difficult relatives, ensure you’ll have a welcoming spot to come home to with ApartmentSearch. Use our apartment finder tool to claim your perfect place, complete with amenities, parking, and PRIVACY! Now, that’s fa-la-la-fabulous.