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Staying Sane: Hosting Family for the Holidays

Written by Adrienne Wolter, Community Blogger | Nov 25, 2013 1:17 PM

Photo by Micah Taylor

When you're having a hard time putting up with your family, try to focus on how you are thankful for them.

Dear old Aunt Mildred has her own little way of making you feel awkward every time she comes to visit during the holidays. No matter how old you get, she pinches your cheeks and always makes comments about how you could do better in your career, your relationships and yes, even your wardrobe. Her comments are enough to make you hide under the dinner table, praying that she catches her flight early.

We all have relatives that we can only hope to see once a year. But, that's the beauty of the holidays. Often times, you will only see them during special occasions. Don't let the family crazies ruin all the festive fun. Take a deep breath, enjoy the holiday season and use these tips to tackle even the more horrifying of relative encounters.

Stress Level 1: Stray Awkward Moments


Photo by Neal Lantela

Brief moments of awkwardness are best approached by holding your tongue.


It's your first time inviting your significant other to the family's holiday dinner. You rang the doorbell and upon opening the door and stepping one foot into the house, Uncle Barry says, "Geez, haven't seen you in a long time. *Chuckle* Who's this? You're both strangers to me. *Chuckle* You never come by to visit."


Channel your sarcastic side and play up some witty banter. Since Uncle Barry chose to take his awkward comment as a joke, you can dismiss his jab with some of your own. This way, you're politely letting him know that his attempt at subtle criticism was silly to you. You can leave confrontation at the door and maybe interject with a "Merry Christmas, Uncle Barry! It's so good to see you!" Kindness is always the best policy. That way, you don't seem like the Scrooge that just entered the party. Don't forget to warn your significant other ahead of time.

Stress Level 2: Mild Irritation


Photo by Elevated on Flickr

Avoid compromise as much as possible.


You've served yourself some wonderful grub and are ready to find a seat and dig in. Before you can even reach your glorious destination, that's only a mere four feet away, mom interjects. "Dear, I need you to help me upload these family photos to Facebook. What does the tag button mean? Look, am I pressing the right button? Your grandmother from Chicago needs to see these now."


Getting bombarded with your hands full can definitely be annoying. Take a moment to breathe and reevaluate the situation. Calmly tell mom that you'd be willing to help her once you've settled. During the holidays, it's all about compromise. If that doesn't work, excuse yourself politely and tell them you'll come back with an answer. This will give you time to think about how you want to handle the situation. You'll want to avoid confrontation as it is a time to be joyous.

Stress Level 3: Uncomfortable Criticisms


Photo by Luigi Crespo

Avoid carnage with a carefully-arranged seating chart.


 A conversation during dessert ensues. Pesky Aunt Mildred grabs your side as she walks by. "Why, haven't we gotten thin? It's no wonder with the hours you work for that soul-less company. How much do you get paid again? I'm sure it's nothing significant; what, with the downsize and all. And that efficiency you live in? That's surely not a place for someone like you."


Alright, so they've struck a nerve. Instead of fighting back, keep them talking by turning the conversation over to them. Typically, these types of relatives will focus on gossiping or they even just like to hear themselves talk. You can respond to Aunt Mildred's comments by even giving a statistic.

For example, you could retort with, "You know, I actually have been really conscious about money managing and I'm saving up for a home in the future." Then, let them talk about their ideas of money. When you can get a word in edgewise, politely ask them questions to turn the attention back on them.

If you’re hosting, plan seating arrangements ahead of time and decorate with clever place cards. You may be saving your other family members from enduring this type of torture. Know your family and plan accordingly.

Stress Level 4: Danger, Will Robinson


Photo by Michael Moore

Bragging relatives can be one of the hardest-to-ignore holiday faux pas.


You're cleaning up in the kitchen. Cousin Sarah begins to brag to your father about how well her pumpkin pie turned out... loud enough for you to hear. "I really must have a gift. I've always been good at baking. I'm sorry to say that your daughter is too busy to make food. It's a shame she had to go buy a store bought pie. But, it's the thought that counts, right? I'm just glad everyone ate mine up since I took the time to make it."


Ouch. That hurt. Find a way to get them out of your hair. If you overhear Sarah being tactfully nasty, kill her with kindness and find some busy work for them. That way, they will be doing something productive instead of running their mouth.

Say something like "Oh, Sarah, do you mind grabbing that beautiful empty pie plate of yours? I've run some soap and water. You should clean it so it doesn't get ruined." So what if it's an escape mechanism. You've just politely laid on some sarcasm and put them to work. That has to feel good. You've evaded your local law firm another day!

Stress Level 5: Someone's Got a Death Wish


Photo by Bart Cayusa

Some criticisms are just low blows. Avoid booting your family out into the cold by planning distractions or escape routes into your gathering.


Everyone is full from dinner and seems to be bored and running out of things to say. Then, Grandma Georgie decides it's time to nit-pick about your hosting ability. "So, what are we going to do now? Sit and stare at each other? I sent you suggestions for activities. Not everyone's going to stare at your new living room paint job; I wouldn't have chosen 'mocha' for myself..."


When you're hosting, be prepared with entertainment to keep your guests attentive and out of each other's hair. Host your event early in the afternoon so there is downtime to enjoy a walk, movie or playtime. Some of the best holiday bonding experiences can happen from board games and parlor games, like dominoes. Let people fight over the game, not each other.

In the future, you could suggest having a public family party at a restaurant or exploring your area's local historical sites. In going out, hopefully your family will have some tact and put away the bickering for another day. Keeping your family busy will help take the pressure off of you. Therefore, you won't have to duck and cover when the attacks come flying in. Who says you can't pretend they're not related to you?


Photo by Tempus Volat

Sometimes you may just want to go hide in the tree. Remember that you only have to do this once a year and soldier on.

Just Breathe

At the end of the taxing holiday, know that they are family. You may love them, but you don't always have to like them. As with all people, show respect and be the bigger person. Continue to do the right thing and plan ahead. Hopefully, your family can refocus on the reason for the season.

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