Just like most of us, your family is not nearly as perfect as George Bailey’s in It’s a wonderful life. It probably is closer to one of the three Modern Family families or that of the Griswolds’ in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
To avoid getting wrapped up in garlands and light up like a Christmas tree, here are solutions to the holiday season’s top 10 sticky family situations.
1. What if: A family member asks me an indiscreet question.
You have options.
Reply with empathy and a positive attitude.
“How much money do you make?
“I’m doing quite well thank you, but I’m always open to suggestions. Do you have any ideas for me?”
Respond with humour.
“How old are you?”
“Today I feel like 20!”
Answer with a question in return.
“When will you have children?”
“Hmmm, why do you ask?”
Switch to another topic of conversation.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?”
Generally, when you feel uneasy about answering a question, use this sentence: “I am a pretty private person and I prefer to keep that kind of information to myself.”
2. What if: My uncle always tells off-colour jokes?
That’s always a tough one and even more so since the #MeToo movement. Be offensive. Call your uncle ahead. Remind him that your home has a “G” rating. Ask your father or another man you trust to remind him of your rules on the day of the celebration. If he forgets in the heat of the moment, say something like “Oh la la Uncle Bob, Santa’s little helpers have long ears and what they are hearing is making them blush.” You can also quickly change the subject to announce that you will be going around the table to find out what everyone’s Christmas song is.
For an adult only party, it is appropriate to say, “Uncle Bob, I am really uncomfortable about this type of comment,” and then to change the subject.
3. What if: I am hosting and two of my cousins don’t get along very well.
Assign them very distant places around the table by using nametags. Prepare conversation topics and include the whole table in your discussion. If the volume rises, propose a toast or invite one of them to come help you in the kitchen. Be careful not to serve too much alcohol. Offer water and other non-alcoholic drinks.
4. What if: It’s dinnertime and many of my family members arrive at the table with their cell phones in hand. I want real “Facetime”, not screen time.
Place an empty basket in the center of the table. As your guests come to the table with cell phones in hand, ask them to place them in the basket. Whoever reaches for their phone will be recruited for the…? Dishes team.
To avoid frictions announce your memory making intentions in the party confirmation. This way all can inform their virtual network that they will be offline to make real face time memories during dinner.
5. What if: Grandma tells the same stories over and over again, since forever.
Let her tell her stories. She may soon be gone and you will miss those stories. Listen and invite her to share her anecdotes with other guests, especially with those of the younger generations.
6. What if: Little sis’ wants to bring new puppy? My spouse and I have decided that our home would be a petless home.
Here too, as in number 2, prepare her in advance for your house rule. Inform your sister that her little pooch, as cute as he may be, is not welcome. Start by telling her how much you cannot wait to see her and spending the holidays with her. Then tell her that you and your spouse have decided not to host animals. If one of your guests is allergic to dogs, you may mention it. But, don’t lie about it.
If you are invited to a celebration and own a pet, know that bringing your pet or arriving with another person or even your children without having validated their presence with your host is never appropriate, even if they are a-do-ra-ble
7. What if: We are invited to my brother-in-law’s house for a traditional Christmas dinner and our son’s new girlfriend is a vegetarian?
When you RSVP, let your brother-in-law know that your son’s girlfriend is a vegetarian. Do not ask him to change his menu to accommodate her. Offer to contribute a meatless dish such as a mushroom stuffing or veggie pie. She will then have one dish to eat that others can also enjoy. Plus she can add some of the turkey’s side dishes to her meal.
In the case of a food allergy, the responsibility is that of the allergic person, not of the host. Specify allergens well so that the host can avoid them or inform you of what dishes they were used in.
8. What if: One of my guests is a little more than tipsy …
As host you your primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of all your guests and that they all return home safely.
Regularly offer water to your guests. Place bottles of sparkling water on the table. Add sliced apples or citrus fruits to a pitcher of water to make water appealing. If you have to stop serving alcohol to some guests, inform them privately.
If your guests will not be sleeping over, arrange a ride with another guest, with Uber, call a cab or Operation Red Nose.
9. What if: I am contributing to my sister-in-law’s potluck dinner; do I have to bring her a hostess gift?
No, there is no obligation to bring a hostess gift when you are contributing to the meal. But, a good idea to show your appreciation, is to buy a new bowl and serving utensils to offer as a “thank you for hosting” gift. This way you don’t have to wait for your bowl to be washed or returned to you.
10. What if: I received a gift I don’t like from a client, may I regift it in my family?
These days, with overconsumption and environmental concerns regifting may be acceptable, if it meets these conditions. You are absolutely sure that the “original donor” will never know that you have passed on his gift. You know that the recipient will appreciate or even better, love it. The item must be new and unused. The packaging and the original instructions must be intact. The wrapping and note card must be replaced. Lastly, because children are so candid, regifting should not be done in front them. They may tell…
Lastly, in the name of peace, use these classic tips to avoid family feuds and focus on rejoicing. Prepare yourself mentally. Think positive. Breathe. Keep calm and let it go. Remember that it’s only for a few hours.
May peace be with you. 🙂