'Tis the season for family fetes and festivities -- and the increased potential for feuds. Arm yourself with the following strategies and face the holidays head-on -- while maintaining a Zen-like cool.
If your idea of a perfect holiday is one in which everyone laughs, gets along, and clasps hands for a round of "Kumbaya," then no wonder you leave disappointed. Psychologist Leonard Felder's suggestion? Set different goals. "Maybe last year you had five good minutes out of a three-hour visit when you connected with a difficult or complicated family member," he says. "This year, aim for 10 good minutes. That's a 100 percent improvement." Maybe your intention is to laugh a little more, breathe a little easier, or say a few kind words to even the most challenging relative. Set reasonable goals and you won't feel let down.
Rather than brace yourself for the inevitable bad turn in conversation, consider bringing information you do want to share to the table. Etiquette consultant Jodi R. R. Smith suggests redirecting the focus as best you can with news (about a friend's baby, a promotion), show-and-tell (a copy of the poem you had published or pictures of the kids), or even games that engage the family in something other than your personal life. Another tactic? Stay out of the line of fire. "When you see a particularly difficult person come into the room, wait a few minutes so it's not obvious, then find a reason to help out in the kitchen or refresh your drink." The goal isn't to face off with someone, but to make your visit as smooth as possible.
You know going into it that your father will question your parenting skills (as he always does). So why not tap your spouse or another family member to jump in when you suddenly find yourself playing defense? Enlist that person's support ahead of time, articulating what you need. That way, if an aggressive relative lays into you, your backup will know whether you want him to play the hero, the subject-changer, or a different role entirely. Even if you haven't lined up an ally beforehand, you can often solicit one in the moment. "Usually there's someone in the group who has more clout, someone that the others will listen to," says psychologist Leonard Felder. "Draw that person into the conversation to take the pressure off you."
You don't have to like or get along with everyone in your family to learn a valuable lesson from them. If you're interested in growing and expanding as a person, right there with the kinfolk is the place to do it. "They'll challenge you to work on the qualities of patience, acceptance, and self-control," says psychologist Leonard Felder. "You'll learn more from your family about who you want -- and don't want -- to be than from anyone else."
A lot of past sins can be forgotten quickly with a loving note from a family member. The recipient can be a romantic interest or not; your grandmother, child, or best friend will appreciate the gesture as much as your significant other. Best of all? You only need a pen, a piece of fine stationery, and some beautiful wrapping paper to get the job done. Take your time and work on a draft over a few days. To get started, consider questions like: What does this person mean to me? What do I find fascinating about him or her? What qualities of character do I respect or admire? Once you've completed the letter, treat it like a present that deserves a gift box with beautiful paper.
Every family has its ups and downs -- so it's important to cherish the good times, the happy moments, and the formative events that made you who you are today. Take some time this holiday to sit down together and preserve your family's unique history through the voices and artifacts of those who lived it, with creative memory crafts or audio recordings. You'll reconnect with your loved ones, or maybe even form new bonds.