This week brings Passover and Easter, so a lot of folks are going to get together with family, whether they like it or not. I’m not a therapist, but as a member of a functional family business and a wife about to host her 9 in-laws for the weekend, for about the 12th time, I feel uniquely qualified to give advice on this topic. But I’d love to hear your thoughts too!
1. Ask for help, but don’t expect it. Families are never fair. Work is never equally divided. That’s just the way it is. I am always prepared to do everything, but very happy not to. Wasting time being mad because one person tends to just sit around ruins the whole experience for everyone.
2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. I am fairly liberal (although I have a lot of conservative friends). My mother-in-law is a Fox News conservative. I am never going to change her mind—she’s 87 for God’s sake! But I have learned a lot by questioning her and trying to understand her opinions, rather than just reacting to them. In her own way, she often makes sense…even though I still disagree.
3. Don’t try to be right about everything. Getting the family together can be a toxic experience when someone insists on being the winner in an argument, or thinks he or she is right about everything….of course, I am right about everything, but that doesn’t mean I have to rub it in their faces.
4. Try not to criticize. Nothing is more hurtful or hard to watch than someone criticizing someone else in front of others. Whether it’s your kids or your spouse or your sister, holidays are a time to suspend critical thinking and just surrender to holiday spirit. If you need to discipline a child, please take the child to a quiet corner or another room and speak respectfully.
5. Realize that the only person you can change is yourself. Seriously, the sooner we all learn this one, the happier we will all be. We all have people in our lives who we wish would be a little bit (OK, a LOT) different. But it’s just not going to happen. Adjust your own attitude about it, and suddenly the situation seems much more bearable.
6. Enjoy yourself. If you are doing all the work, make sure you sit down and take breaks and talk to people…so what if dinner is a little late? I like to spend a little one-on-one time with each person present—to take the conversation at least a tiny step further than just “How are you?”
7. Lay off the liquor. I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. And I don’t serve alcohol in my house. It’s amazing how much happier my family dinners turn out when no one’s crying or acting out after drinking too much. I don’t get upset when people bring their own wine to a dinner at my house—but the fact that they might be the only ones drinking seems to help them stay in control.
8. Find your happy place. For me, it’s the quiet of my own bed with a nice spicy romance novel after a hard day of hostessing is done. If things get to be too much for you, go outside, take a walk, play with the kids, or find a place to take a nap.
9. Remember, we are all going to turn into our mothers/fathers one day. The very things that drive us crazy about our parents and relatives are probably hard wired into us, too. It’s just harder for us to see it in ourselves, since we are looking at the world from inside of ourselves. So relax and don’t get uptight about personality tics and weird behaviors.
10. Know that one day, you’re going to miss this. Like the Trace Adkins song says, things might seem crazy and chaotic now, but these days are the ones you will look back on and think of as good times. Watching my in-laws and my mother reach the point where they can no longer do all the things that we take for granted really brings this point home for me. You never know what will happen between this holiday and the next, so savor every moment…and try not to eat too much (ha ha!).