The Conundrum of the Holidays; or, how to maneuver crazy-making families

You love your family and you want to spend time with them, maybe even during Thanksgiving or Christmas (they are the time-proven classics for family bonding). But those who share a blood-bond with you have been the sole topic of discussion at your therapist’s office… for years. You’re torn. Do you stay home where it’s safe (and maybe a little bit boring and lonely) or do you walk into the arena? The easy answer is to spend the holidays with friends, get sick (a sure way to get out of a family holiday), travel to where your family is unlikely to follow, or schedule that root canal you’ve been avoiding. Any of these options are likely to be more pleasant than listening to bickering and veiled insults, or watching ordinarily kind people degenerate to barbarianism. Obligation and guilt are strong incentives that may encourage you to choose against your better judgment—and darn it, those nephews/nieces/grandkids are just too cute to pass up.

So, you’ve made the decision to spend Thanksgiving with your family. How does one who is reasonably healthy deal with certain insanity, without copious amounts of alcohol? Here are some suggestions:

Play Games
If everyone is focused on playing cards and doing something fun, there is less time to focus on everyone else and the bickering/gossiping that is sure to ensue. Head games don’t count.

If the weather is beautiful outside, take those adorable kids to a playground, go on a hike, or explore that state park everyone always talks about visiting, but no one does. If you try hard enough, you may even tire out everyone, including the adults.

Either at home or the theater, movies can be a useful equalizer/tranquilizer. Mouths can’t talk when stuffed with popcorn and people who have been eating and drinking may be inclined to fall asleep. Warning: there may be whining if not everyone likes the film.

You probably won’t get everyone to meditate with you, but you can be proactive in your peace of mind by taking even five minutes for yourself. If personal space and boundaries are issues, use the bathroom for your time out. Chances are, no one will follow you in there.

Keep yourself busy while everyone else is going crazy around you. Bring a good book, art/craft project and/or your laptop/iPad/iPhone to keep yourself occupied and out of the fray. It’s much harder to participate in the ritual slaying of family morale if your mind is mostly elsewhere.

Offer to host
If you’re busy cooking and cleaning, you’ll probably be less in tune to what your relatives are doing. And if you’re lucky, they’ll clean up after themselves once they’re through killing each other.

Regardless of how you spend your holidays and with whom you share them, the best tactic to take is one of gratitude. No matter how obnoxious, contentious, or frustrating family can be, if you have one to share time with, remember that you are blessed… with an opportunity to practice love and peace, if nothing else.

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