Holiday Drama

By Ginny Frizzi

August 6, 2010 5 min read

American fall and winter holidays are traditionally depicted by images of families who enjoy gathering together, exchanging favorite memories and eating a big meal. The reality, however, is often very different. Aunt Sue and her sister resume an argument about something that happened 30 years ago, while Grandma criticizes the way the children are being raised. Uncle Fred gets drunk and silly, while the kids chase each other around the house because there's nothing to do. Such family drama has ruined any number of holidays, but it is possible to avoid some of it. The first thing to remember is that you can't change other people and their behavior, only your own, according to life coach Connie Love. "You cannot change anyone, so when you go to a family function and someone blames you for something or starts arguing, avoid immediately retaliating or defending yourself," Love says. "Instead, do nothing. It may feel uncomfortable for a while, and then you will realize that you have so much more power by showing no reaction. Remember that in doing 'less,' you become more." However, Love stresses that this does not mean you should take verbal abuse or become a victim. "Situations may require that you tell an annoying relative to back off in no uncertain terms," she says. According to the experts, some advance planning is the key to a less stressful holiday. Though you can't change anyone else, you can take steps to head off some of the family drama that has become a holiday tradition, according to Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Sit relatives who always argue on the same side of the table, separated by two or three other relatives. No eye contact, no argument," she says. As for relatives who get drunk and then silly, maudlin or loud, Smith recommends putting out appetizers made of carbohydrates before the bar opens. "You might also assign another relative to be in charge of the drinks. You can also 'forget' to purchase Uncle Fred's favorite drink and say, "Oh, I forgot gin! But I do have a lovely merlot. Try some," she says. When it comes to Grandma and the kids, Smith suggests having the grandchildren prepare something to show her on Thanksgiving. It could be the latest move learned in karate classes, a drawing or photos from a dance recital and will give Grandma something else to focus on and provide the kids with something to do. Smith suggests that older children "interview" Grandma about her life when she was their age. Asking what school was like or what she did for fun will not only result in some interesting family history but also keep two generations occupied. Noelle Nelson -- an author, clinical psychologist and relationship expert -- believes some of the stress and family drama can be reduced or eliminated by coming up with some new family traditions. "Think ahead about what you need for your company. If there are a lot of little kids coming, consider setting up a craft table where they can spend time. Everyone can say what they are thankful for during Thanksgiving dinner and maybe take a walk afterward," she says. When it comes to dealing with relatives who have sharp tongues, Nelson advises to look past that habit to see who they are and what they have to offer, though she acknowledges that it does take some effort. "Focus on something about them that is pleasing to you," she says. "Maybe it's 'I never noticed before what pretty color your eyes are' or 'That is a pretty dress. Where did you get it?'" But a compliment or question must be genuine, Nelson adds. If the snide comments do start coming, she recommends that you don't get defensive or huffy. "Just calmly say, 'Thanks for the input,'" she says. "Be polite, and don't get involved or sucked into the drama." Despite what can happen, Love reminds us that holidays should be special family times. "Most of the time, we just want to be with family, and sometimes that means drama," she says. "Just take a deep breath and be 'natural.' Enjoy your family, shortcomings and all." If all else fails, consider the strategy used by Beverly Solomon, creative director for Musee-Solomon. "After years of enduring family drama during the holidays, my husband and I finally found the perfect solution. We head for the Caribbean," she says. "While our crazy relatives are sharing insults, tears, screams, threats and walkouts over painful memories and imagined incidents, we are sharing margaritas and coconut shrimp on the beach. Once we came to the enlightenment that it is a positive thing to dump negative people, including those you got through the genetic lottery, our lives have been much happier and more productive."COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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