For some, the holiday season is filled with good food and quality time with family. For others, it’s watery ham and less than desirable conversation. The unpredictability of COVID might provide a temporary respite from uncomfortable family gatherings but we won’t be able to avoid them forever. If you feel obligated to spend time with your extended family members, take comfort knowing you are not alone. I’ve had my own awkward encounters during the holiday season and over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to make the best of it.
1. Have A Food Back Up Plan
I am a picky eater and going to someone else’s house to eat can be a hit or a miss. Before I knew what it was to have in-laws, I spent some time with my soon-to-be in-laws during the Thanksgiving holiday. With any food-based event, I kept my expectations low. I knew the meal would not be making the cover of “Country Woman” magazine but was confident that I could find one dish to keep me from starving until hitting up the Taco Bell drive-through on my way home. Nowadays, there are a diversity of food preferences that the host might not be able to accommodate. Instead of expecting to find keto-friendly sides or rolls without gluten, go easy on your host and sustain yourself with snacks. Make a discreet plan to eat before or after the main meal.
2. Know the Family Drama Going In
Knowing the family drama before a holiday gathering makes it easier to mitigate or avoid all together at the dinner table. Just before one Thanksgiving, my aging grandfather-in-law moved in with my in-laws. He was a delightful man, but it never dawned on me how difficult it would be for my mother in law to care for an ailing parent in her home. Unfortunately, we learned the living arrangements were starting to unravel that night.
During dinner, Grandfather fed a piece of turkey to the family dog. Mother in law barked at him about feeding the dog at the table. He glared back at her, scooped up a huge pile of mashed potatoes, and with a swift flick of his wrist splattered them right onto the carpet for the dog to enjoy. I was shocked and then concerned my mother in law would get out of her chair and dump him out of his wheelchair. Although comical, it did make the celebration slightly awkward.
3. Institute Your Own Traditions
Many of my clients that are in difficult family transitions know the value of creating new traditions. Starting your own Thanksgiving traditions can give fighting family members something else to focus on or contribute to. For example, I started bringing board games to our events. An activity like a board game helps focus the conversation on the task at hand rather than answering awkward questions like, “how much is your mortgage”? I also started bringing food and helping with the preparation of food. Even though the watery ham returns every year with a vengeance, I now have some control over what I’m eating for dinner.
Whatever your holiday situation, do your best to make the most of your family time. It’s worth putting in the effort to make it special for everyone. As we know all too well in the world of family law, you can only control yourself and your reactions to your circumstances. If you find yourself in a less than desirable holiday scenario, try following these tips. If all else fails, perhaps a getaway holiday vacation in Tahiti might be a good plan for 2021.