How to Deal with Your Crazy Family (from an Accidental Expert)

The holidays are almost here.  Can you believe it?

Some of you are counting down to long-awaited reunions with those you love.  Some of you are dreaming of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie.  And some of you are thinking, “How am I going to deal with my crazy family?

If you’re in the last camp, and you’d like to keep the family drama to a minimum this holiday season, here are 7 tips to keep the peace.

1. Do a reality check–and do it now, before the big event.  The stakes are higher over the holidays, so now’s the time to remind yourself to be realistic and keep your expectations reasonable.  Now’s the time to think about what’s likely to be problematic, and what you can do about it.  Like…

2.  Get yourself ready. If your family gatherings tend to be stressful, make sure you are well prepared. Get enough sleep, eat some real food before you arrive, and don’t drink too much (coffee, alcohol, whatever).

3.  Talk with everyone. Those of you with giant families know what I’m talking about. If there are 30 people at an event it can be hard to actually speak to everyone: make sure you do it.  (And of course, if you’re speaking with everyone that also indicates that you’re actually on speaking terms with everyone–which is a very good thing.) Make the effort to talk to your shy nephew, or chat up the girlfriend who hardly knows anyone.

4.  No baiting. If we want fireworks at our family gatherings, we can toss out Occupy Wall Street as conversation fodder. Or the presidential election. Or recycling! Passionate family members will rise to the challenge. If you don’t want fireworks at your holiday gathering, keep the peace by knowing what’s off limits.

5.  No trash talking. Don’t gossip about other family members. Period. This is really tempting for me over the holidays, because I’m always tempted to do some female bonding with my sisters-in-law over some juicy family gossip. That’s not a bad reason to gossip–but there are better reasons not to.  Don’t do it.

6.  Be a good sport. Do what you can to go with the flow. If your family loves Trivial Pursuit, get ready to play some Trivial Pursuit.

7.  Be grateful. Find something to be thankful for. After some family gatherings, I am grateful that I am blessed with such a wonderful family. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I get to go home with my husband and not all those crazy people we just had dinner with.

Do you deal with family drama?  What are your best tips for dealing with difficult family members?

photo credit: Carbon NYC

Comments

  1. Amber says

    Great suggestions! I always remind myself that it takes 2 people for an argument. Therefore, if someone says something provocative, I know I can just walk away and not get into a discussion that can turn into an argument. Of course, I walk away politely ;)

  2. says

    I have no idea what you’re talking about at all. Every single member of my family is perfect and spreads nothing but love and joy! Hahaha! These are fabulous tips I will put to good use. I always remind myself to try and remember the story of the other person’s life. What hard things did they go through to arrive at the person they are today (everyone has had pain, but we don’t all deal with it in the same way). And, of course my mantra is “I am better than no one!” When someone is bothering me, I remind myself that I’m in no less need of grace than them. Thanks for this!!

    • Anne says

      Yes, those are great things to keep in mind! Sometimes I’ll try to sort out a loved one’s personality type, or birth order, or family history, or anything if I need a little instant empathy!

      And yes, I remind myself that I can be kind of a pain sometimes, too :)

  3. says

    I have a very small family, which is great and also difficult because you can’t escape the ones that drive you crazy (my grandma especially – I love her dearly, but she can talk your ear off and has gotten a bit “off” as she’s gotten up in years!). I’m really nervous about going home for Christmas this year because we are planning to go home with baby and I know everyone in the family is going to have to give their two cents and criticize the way I’m doing things (I know it’s out of love and concern, but it’s definitely not what I’m going to want to hear as a very new – approx. 2 week old – mother!). I think that mentally preparing beforehand is probably the best thing I can do!

  4. says

    You have a really good point about not drinking too much coffee! I have done this before and found myself excessively agitated over what someone said to me.

    My family is generally low-drama, though, perhaps because we all live far apart and therefore treasure our time together and try to make it as pleasant as possible.

    Your tips are excellent. One I would add: Think about what are your “sore spots” this year and how to deflect attention from them, resist feeling criticized, and maybe give them a pre-emptive positive spin. For example, my partner has been mostly unemployed for the past year and a half, so we could easily take offense if someone seems to be thinking he’s “doing nothing” or “failing to support his family,” and I could succumb to someone pitying me. But we can talk about how he’s learning to program iPad apps, how he’s spending more time with our son, how he’s cooking dinner 5 nights a week, how not paying for an after-school program and having dinner on the table when I get home makes my life easier, how I got a raise and can support all of us…. Our lives are pretty good, really! Planning how to present them positively not only makes us look better to the relatives but makes US feel more happy and secure.

    • Anne says

      That’s a great tip, ‘Becca. And a great example about how to talk about a “sore spot” with grace–and good manners! It’s hard for me to be caught off guard to answer questions I might tend to get a little defensive about (like my toddler who’s near the low end of the weight chart, for example) and it’s so much easier for me to have a nice conversation about it if I’ve thought it through in advance.

  5. says

    We’ve stopped traveling for holidays. It was just too much once the kids came along. These tips will come in handy all year long though.

    At least both sides of our families always balance the craziness with good food. That’s what I try to focus on. :)

  6. says

    These are really good tips. Thankfully, our family holiday get togethers are very small & intimate. We all get along too so I’m extremely grateful. By small I mean either it’s just me, my husband & my parents or the 4 of us & my aunt & uncle, plus a neighbor. I guess I’m really spoiled :)

  7. says

    This is a wonderful post with some excellent tips. Unfortunately, short of passing out copies of this post at the door and making each family member sign a document swearing to abide by these rules I don’t think it would do the trick with my crazy family. The last family gathering I hosted was my youngest son’s First Communion, and I made sure everyone invited knew that this was to be a celebration of an important day in my son’s life and no family drama or inappropriate behavior was welcome. Of course, it was truly horrific. My FIL brought his MISTRESS, my SIL got drunk and screamed at her husband for two hours, and my BIL pawed through all the ham-and-beaten-biscuits, pulling the ham off and eating it because, as he said “I’m on Adkins”. Then it got worse. So I no longer invite anyone to my house who can’t behave properly. Therefore, we have small gatherings ;)

  8. says

    I also consider myself an accidental expert on this topic… unfortunately. While most of our family is great, we have a few family members that are particularly difficult, and when we get together with them, it’s very important that things are ‘contained’: specified amount of time to be together, and plan of action if things go awry. This makes getting together manageable; otherwise, I don’t think it would work. Enjoyed your tips!

  9. DFrazzled says

    I was dreading a Thanksgiving a few years ago–I knew some of our family would be talking real estate, vintage wines, and golf, and the other half of the family would be talking layoffs, trading in cars for beaters, and where to get the cheapest groceries.

    I decided to put a generic open-ended question underneath each plate at the table–not knowing where anyone would sit. During dinner, each person was asked to answer their question. So instead of focusing on the things that divided us, we talked about family heritage, someone’s worst hair cut, their favorite camping trip, or their first date.

    It really changed the mood at the table, making the night as enjoyable as the food.

  10. Malisa says

    I really appreciated this post! Great reminder to talk to everyone and not gossip, even though it seems so fun. We’ll have 45+ people this year, so of I just go around and say hi, that should occupy me for a long time.

    Thinking about how it feels to be “that” person has helped me in the past. Going to try and remember that this year too.

  11. Heather says

    Great tips for a semi-normal family…but last month I drove 800 miles with a screaming baby to see my family, and my dad, who I normally get along great with, refused to speak to me. He stopped by my grandma’s where we were gathering, dropped off some food, and left before I could work my way through the crowd. Why? Apparently my highly histrionic sister threatened to commit suicide if he so much as spoke with me. So he didn’t, and then blamed it all on me (I haven’t spoken to or of her in a year because she pulls incidents like this every few months, and I can’t spare the emotional energy anymore. So it’s not like I had recently done something to offend her). Yeah, I wish my biggest problem was not discussing OWS.

    That’s why this Thanksgiving I’m grateful that it’s too far of a drive, and don’t have to deal with them until Christmas :)

  12. says

    I needed this, lol! Sometimes dealing with a crazy family, especially when extended family and in-laws are involved, can take some emotional prep work. These tips are wonderful. I would love it if you would link up to my Frugal Christmas Week so my readers can check this out as well! Thanks!

  13. Suzette @ jambalaya says

    LOVE this post too – came over after you suggested it to someone today.

    Thanks for this. I agree that gossip = love and peace killer FOR SURE. Agreed it can be tempting…

    Yep, family is definitely…well, you know. Interesting.

    Happy Weekend to you! Still so glad you hopped over to see the scalp exfoliant – my brother’s girlfriend wants me to get him to do it. Ha We’ll see! That would be fun to have a guy’s perspective on it. :)

  14. Katie says

    I am just wondering, has anyone ever opted OUT of a family gathering because one spouse (typically the in-law spouse, not the one in the family) has been ostracized or made fun of?
    We’ve been in this situation, and it only takes 1-2 people to make someone miserable. But when you live IN the same town, it’s hard to make excuses. We can’t just be gone the day of that holiday, because then they’ll arrange something one, two, three days before.
    I don’t want to be hurtful to those who care, or involve them in unnecessary gossip, but aren’t there times when, for the sake of your marriage, it’s better to NOT GO than to go and then fight later about how the cold shoulders should’ve been handled??

    • Anne says

      Oh, Katie, I’m sorry you have to deal with this. That sounds like a terrible situation.

      There are definitely times when it’s better not to go, but that would be tough being in the same town. I wish you luck with this one, and I’ll see if anyone else has had personal experience with this same situation.

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