Family gatherings aren't always the easiest – but with our tips on how to keep your cool, you'll make it through to dessert in good humour.
By Caitlin Agnew
Staying upbeat and full of cheer at Christmas isn’t easy for some of us. In the 1995 film Home for the Holidays, Claudia Larson returns to her parents’ house where she is confronted by the wacky and difficult realities of family.
“When you go home, do you look around and wonder, Who are these people? and Where did I even come from?” she asks.
According to Andrew Sofin, a US-based couples and family therapist and psychotherapist, these feelings of disconnection are common.
Family etiquette tips
“We create stories around our families,” he says.
“We’ve created this idea about how families are supposed to be quite homogeneous entities. The idea is that your family should reflect who you are, so we take it personally if somebody is different.”
While many simply try to eat the pain away, there are less-fattening coping mechanisms.
“First and foremost, check your expectations at the door,” says Sofin.
Before attending the family Christmas dinner, write down the guest list and add two sentences next to each name: one that says what you like about the person and one that says what you dislike.
“You’ll go into it with a different frame of mind,” he says. If you have an aunt who is particularly nosey, reminding yourself that she is also warm, welcoming and sweet will help you realise that her inquisitiveness stems from the heart.
While there are no hard and fast rules to etiquette, going in with a game plan can make for a winning evening. Here, we break down five of the most common (ahem) challenging personalities you may share table space with this festive season.
Our expert advice will help you deal with any situation with grace, dignity and compassion – or at least make it through to dessert in one piece.
We’ve all heard the saying that father knows best.
But whether it’s your dad, uncle, mother or older sister, getting unwanted advice from a family member can trigger feelings of resentment from deep within.
“Family members tend to be much more opinionated with one another than they are with strangers because of the intimacy of family life,” says Sofin.
While some advice givers may be coming from a genuine place of helpfulness, others may use this conversation technique as a way to dominate.
The Game Plan
Be gracious, don’t take anything too personally and remember that their intentions are good – either they really want to help or they’re simply looking for a way to communicate with you.
“Just dealing with that person might be as simple as saying ‘Thank you, I know you care about my well-being, but I’m not concerned about it at this time,’” says Jacqueline Whimore, an etiquette expert.
It isn’t necessary to take their advice to heart, but it is important to appreciate the sentiment.
“Then the other person will feel good, you’re out of the conversation and you can move on to somebody else,” adds Sofin.