Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to Survive the Holidays with Your Wacky Relatives

Whether you are dreading or looking forward to the upcoming holidays, you probably have (or know someone who has) a special relative who makes life “interesting” every year. Everyone thinks their own family is “dysfunctional,” with wacky relatives, control freaks, and weird holiday traditions, but we all make it through the holidays every year and look forward to doing it again! Inspired by the stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family, here are a few tips for navigating those holiday gatherings and remembering why you really love all those people who share your last name.

1. Sometimes passive-aggressive works! Anne Crawley’s mother-in-law refused to share her special pork sandwiches with anyone but “blood relatives” at a summer graduation party, actually sitting under a tree on the blue cooler in which they were hidden for hours so that no one could have any. Anne finally took matters into her own hands and started sending over glasses of lemonade for her hot and thirsty mother-in-law. Anne got points for caring, and everyone got their pork sandwiches after the lemonade had the desired effect and her mother-in-law had to go inside.

2. Turn bad habits into blessings. John MacDonald’s Aunt Helen had the “cleaning bug” and would obsessively clean their home every time she visited. Rather than feeling insulted, the family started to deliberately leave things for Aunt Helen to clean, and did so with no guilt. As MacDonald wrote, “Why not enjoy the benefits of a loved one’s compulsions?”

3. Have the “white lies” ready. Honesty is not always the best policy. Be prepared to gush over inappropriate presents, show delight over dreaded activities, and clean your plate. You might keep some garbage bags and even a toilet plunger handy, as Avis Drucker’s family discovered when an eccentric aunt started bringing them vat after vat of pea soup. One time they clogged the toilet with an emergency disposal of pea soup when they spotted her coming up the front walk with yet another pot and realized they had failed to dispose of the prior offering.

4. Let love patch things up. Christy Westbrook’s extended family didn’t get together for a whole year after an uncle broke their new “pull one name from a hat” policy and brought presents for everyone on Christmas Day. One of the “unauthorized” gifts, a stereo system, spooked the cat, which knocked the tree into the fireplace, breaking ornaments and creating a huge mess and a lot of fighting. When Grandma didn’t show up for Christmas the next year, the family thought she was still angry, but it turned out she had had a heart attack. The family gathered at the hospital, where they came to realize that “although we may have our differences, we are still family and we need each other.”

5. Remember that you really do love them, and you’ll miss them once they are gone. Losing someone you love hurts, even if they were not always the most pleasant person to be around. Trish Bonsall’s elderly mom criticized everything she cooked, wore, or gave to her, and the comments came particularly hot and heavy at holiday meals. Now Trish misses the comments which used to drive her crazy, like “Are these beans cooked right?” or “The meat was a little dry.”





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