How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert).

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert) | Modern Mrs Darcy

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.

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’m 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?

P.S. My favorite Thanksgiving movie that you’ve never heard of.

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  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. 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. 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. 'Becca 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. Lucky 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. Danielle 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. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. TyKes Mom 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!

  11. 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. 🙂

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  13. Kristen says:

    do you have one for how to deal with your crazy in laws?
    I don’t get to spend the holidays with my family so I miss them terribly (not that we celebrate thanksgiving) and forget how crazy they are, but my in laws.. man, they are a different story. I’m scared for tomorrow…

  14. Steph says:

    One thing that has helped us is know what’s negotiable and what’s not. For instance, we’re okay with our kiddos having extra sweets but it’s not acceptable for our daughter to have gluten no matter how crazy the family thinks we are…

  15. Trace says:

    Last year was a nightmare so this year, we are having our nuclear family plus my father-in-law for the traditional Thanksgiving. Later, the adults are going to a restaurant with a difficult family member and her family, since her unkindness was just too much to make my kids endure. I can be nice and polite for an hour or so, but I am teaching my kids that I will not make them endure emotionally abusive comments (she picks on the weakest).

  16. Faith R says:

    Love this post. My key to happiness at the holidays is to keep my expectations reasonable. After a few years of this I have genuinely become more thankful for what (and who) I have instead of perpetually disappointed.

  17. Becca McCann says:

    My tip? Keep a sense of humor! When my family has its crazy moments, it just makes me feel like we could pass as characters in A Tangled Web or Pat of Silver Bush. The trick is “laughing when things go wrong.” 🙂

  18. Sara says:

    Good things to remember! This year will be the first time seeing some family members after our wedding (Sept. of 2013), family members who were far less than supportive and we haven’t spoken since that day. Got to remember not to show up in a defensive attitude! Does “not my circus, not my monkeys” still apply when it’s family?

  19. Mel says:

    Had to stop in now that the holidays are over and thank you for this article. I found it a few days before Christmas, and it was tremendously helpful. Much of the advice I already employed, but #3 was not something I’d thought of before, and #5 was a timely reminder that fit perfectly with some emotional habits I’ve been working on this year. I kept both of those, in particular, top of mind, and whaddya know, this was one of the best holiday seasons in recent memory! I’ve already created a reminder with a link back to this article in Google Calendar for November 1 so I can revisit and prepare even further in advance. Thank you! 🙂

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