For Thanksgiving, we took a road trip to visit family on the East Coast. Everybody had a great time, kids and adults alike, and a big reason is the fact that the long weekend was pretty much drama-free.
Not all family gatherings are like that. We all have memories of reunions where certain siblings couldn’t get along or Christmases dominated by passive-aggressive in-laws. Some of my working mom friends dread holidays because relatives use them as an excuse to make comparisons with stay-at-home sisters, aunts, nieces, etc., who, in the eyes of the judging party, might as well be wearing halos and playing little golden harps.
I’m no expert in family dynamics, and goodness knows I fall short when it comes to practicing what I preach, but I do have some general strategies for coping when the drama level starts to rise.
Give People the Benefit of the Doubt – Maybe your mother-in-law was being sincere when she told you she loved your cooking. Maybe you sister didn’t mean to use that snippy tone of voice. Sometimes we make drama where none was intended because we’re on guard and overly sensitive. Your brother probably was making a jab when he said he said he didn’t know how you manage to work long hours AND spend quality time with your kids, but instead of getting hurt, why not choose to respond with good cheer? Say something like, “Sometimes I wonder that, too, and yet I never cease to amaze myself!”
Remember, You Don’t See Them That Often – Unless you’re from one of those really close-knit families where everybody lives in the same town, in which case I got nothin’. But for most of us, big family gatherings only happen a couple of times each year. If you’re lucky, these are precious times when you get to catch up with people you genuinely miss. If that’s not the case, then just remember it’s not for long. Try to find and enjoy the good moments. And if good moments really are at a premium, then put on your stiff upper lip. You can suck it up and play nice for a couple of days, can’t you?
Make it About the Kids – My cousins and I used to have a ball during the holidays, running around together, enjoying the magic of the season. We had no idea the grown-ups all wanted to strangle each other. When my children are grown I want them to have great memories, too, so I make sure there’s plenty for them to enjoy and that they’re shielded from any drama that might arise, which tends to keep me out of drama, too.
Keep Things on the Surface – “But, but…” you’re saying, “This family is dysfunctional because nobody will talk about our problems! Everybody’s so superficial and ignoring how bad things really are.” That might be true, but if you really think your family needs therapy then get them into a therapist’s office. Thanksgiving is not the time to delve into your deepest, darkest problems, nor do you have an objective professional around to talk people down from ledges and inject a bit of perspective. Until you’ve got a licensed counselor in the room (one that you’re paying, not your social worker Aunt Judy), then pass the chip dip and chat about the weather.
Don’t Be a Drama-Causer - Enough said.
Remind Yourself That Your Life is Awesome – Who cares what your Uncle Bob thinks, anyway? Your children are thriving, good people, right? And you’re happy most of the time. Everybody’s got problems and challenges, but overall you’re proud of your career, your kids and your life. So comfort yourself with that knowledge and make the choice to have a good time. The holidays really are special!