Thursday, 28 November 2019

How to Handle Difficult Relatives at Christmas

A house completely covered in festive lights and decorations.
In an ideal world, relatives would be like other people, we would be surrounded by the ones we like, and not obliged to spend time with those we don't get on with. Sadly, it doesn't work like that and Christmas is probably the prime time for testing the tolerance levels of the average adult, often to Hulk-esque proportions, but you can make it easier on yourself. If family politics (or personal guilt) rule out going away for Christmas, pretending to have a highly contagious disease, or faking your own death, here are some suggestions for helping things go more smoothly when difficult relatives threaten your Christmas spirit.

A very important factor in looking after other people, is to protect yourself. Don't expect too much of yourself and remember it's your holiday too.  Be firm in what you agree to and be careful not to take on too much in the interests of keeping the peace. Accept help that is offered and ask for it if it isn't. Even small jobs; peeling the sprouts, laying the table, mashing potatoes, can make a difference to the overall workload, lessening the stress a a result and they is no reason why everyone can't do something to help. This will hopefully leave more brain-space for dealing with any unruly relatives and other social situations, should they arise.

It also helps to keep people busy. Christmas day can be very long, tiring and ultimately quite boring for the adults, so it's a good idea to make sure no one has too much time on their hands to pick arguments or start anything they probably shouldn't. In some families, games work, in others they can make things worse, so it's up to you to think ahead to prevent boredom-induced bickering. Perhaps a family walk, or maybe a film, anything that keeps everyone distracted and relatively calm.

Be aware of the effects of alcohol. In some cases, moderate levels of alcohol helps to keep things mellow, and a little indulgence can make things feel special and festive. However, if you know that is not the case, and moderate alcohol will probably get out of hand, consider leaving it off the Christmas shopping list. It might seem extreme, but it's only for a day or two, and it might be worth it if you know there are people on your guest list who can't handle it and will be unbearable as a result.

A Margarita in a cocktail glass, with ice, a black straw and a slice of lime on the side.

Next, remember, it's not you, it's them. Christmas is a great example of a time when most of us have to compromise in some way and free will isn't always an option. If you've got a particularly grumpy or difficult relative, who doesn't seem to want to fit in, it could be because they don't want to fit in. Elderly relatives often get passed between family members over Christmas and perhaps it's not how they would choose to spend it. If they normally live alone, they may find all the noise and chaos stressful, so it might help to give them some space, or ask another relative to take them for a drive to see the Christmas lights.

Also, consider Autism and other conditions. This doesn't only apply to children, there are plenty of adults (some undiagnosed) who find large groups and social situations a real struggle, so they don't necessarily mean to be antisocial. Try not to take it personally if someone doesn't seem to be enjoying themselves, they might just be finding their own way to make the situation as comfortable as possible for them. Maybe ask them to help in the kitchen, where it's quieter, if they seem a little overwhelmed or stressed.

On the subject of free will, it's also important to recognise that you are only responsible for your own behaviour, you can't change other people's. So long as you don't rise to it, ultimately they will only show themselves up for who they are, and you don't have to take that on yourself. Try to take a step back from other people's bad behaviour and don't make yourself responsible for it. By all means, do all of the above to try to prevent situations from escalating, but if someone is determined to be rude, grumpy, inappropriate, or in any other way un-festive, it is just for a day or two, and then normal life will resume. Whatever you had to endure, you will be safe in the knowledge that you did your best to ensure everyone had a great Christmas.


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