The Big Family Christmas is one of things that usually turns out to be better in theory, than it is in practice. A few days in, the company of your nearest and dearest should be an enjoyable experience, but the reality is far more stressful. Even the closest of families feel the strain over the festive period. Take a family with more than a little discord and the holiday season can make you feel claustrophobic, at best.
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What can you do when you and the kids are squashed into one room because Gran and Grandad are in the master bedroom while Nana and Grandpa are camped out in the TV room? How do you deal with cooking lunch for hyper-critical in-laws? Can you stop your children killing each other and their cousins before New Years Eve? Should you just cancel Christmas?!
Take a deep breath Seriously. Breathe. Now, let’s get things into perspective. We’re probably only talking about one week here. One out of fifty-two, then it’s all over until next year. When you think about it like that, it seems a little more manageable. Count down the days until it’s all over if it helps.
Be realistic If you’ve set your sights on a picture-perfect Christmas with happy, shiny children opening exquisitely wrapped presents under a magazine-worthy tree, you’re going to feel disappointed. Likewise, the ten-course dinner that requires to-the-minute timing is likely to leave you crying into the gravy. Six months from now, nobody will remember the handmade centrepiece on the table, but they will remember the great time they had with their family. A stressed host makes for an awkward gathering so dial back your expectations and take some of the pressure off yourself.
Accept help When your mum pops her head round the kitchen door and offers to peel potatoes for you or, your husband asks if he can set the table or, your sister-in-law wants to wash the dishes, accept the offer. Don’t try to do everything yourself. People like to feel useful and a bit of teamwork will help the holidays run smoothly.
Offer to help If you’re staying with family, do your bit. Offer to clean up the wrapping paper after you’ve all opened your presents, empty the dishwasher or keep the children entertained while you wait for the parsnips to roast. Keeping busy during the boring bits will make the time go faster and help you engage with the rest of the family in a constructive way.
Limit the alcohol If your father-in-law becomes unbearable after a few drinks or your aunt tries to pick a fight with your uncle, whenever she drinks brandy, monitor the booze. I’m not suggesting you have a dry Christmas, but if alcohol is the source of family conflict then it’s a good idea to set limits on it.
Change the subject If there are certain topics of conversation that are likely to cause conflict, steer others away from it. Whether it’s your disappointing job, sister’s ex-husband, brother’s criminal record or father-in-law’s extreme right wing views, keep the conversation around the table off the topic. Most family members will agree to keep things light for the sake of the children, until after they’re in bed…
Bring a board game If you can’t keep certain family members from getting drunk and obnoxious (not to mention the ones that are obnoxious even when sober) and board game can help everyone focus their attention elsewhere. Old favourites like Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo and Dictionary are great choices, although I’d avoid Monopoly - it brings out the mercenary side of even the gentlest people! Our family has played a few great games of Cards Against Humanity, but it’s a game that reveals a person’s dark side, tread with caution! I can’t promise you won’t fight, but at least it won’t be about something personal!
Get some space Go out for a run, walk around the block, go out into the garden and scream, whatever helps you clear your head. If you want to send everyone out from the kitchen while you wash up, do it. It’s not easy to get time alone when the house is full, but a little space will help you cope better with the hectic moments.
Above all, look after yourself and your family. Merry Christmas.