Family. You love ‘em to death, and if you spend too much time with them, you might (quite literally) strangle them to death.
Enter the holidays. Tensions are already running high due to impossibly immense expectations that this is finally the year for the most fun-filled, loving, feel-good reunion with the fam. Thrust everyone back under one roof for an indeterminate amount of time (how does 48 hours always turns into 5 days?!), and the sweet taste of freedom that comes from living on one’s own is soon replaced by mom’s famous meatloaf (she knows I hate meatloaf. Is she doing this on purpose?!). Before you know it, cousin Nicky has you begging for mercy as he noogies the hell out of your scalp (I have a 401k! This is not supposed to be a thing!), and you start to wonder how you are even related to these maniacs.
Even if your family is the most wonderful, functional family in the whole wide world, A) I don’t believe you. Stop lying; B) Someone is bound to get on your nerves at some point, so read on anyway, and learn how to cope with home this holiday season.
1. Set the bar low. Will you love catching up with your family? Of course. Will you have a great time? Probably. Will you successfully navigate the treacherous, shark-infested waters that are Aunt Cindy’s “drinking problem” and avoid any and all mention of past family tensions? Certainly not. At some point, old insults will be mentioned, skeletons will be dragged from closets, and someone is going to hurt someone else’s feelings, inadvertently or very much on purpose. Be prepared. I recommend a flask. But please don’t tell Aunt Cindy.
2. Remember that people change. You grew up with these nut cases, so obviously you know everything there is to know about them, right? Not necessarily. Time marches on, life throws curveballs and people change. Try not to pigeonhole everyone based on your memory of them (although everyone can agree that cousin Nicky is still an asshole). Give your family members room to surprise you.
3. Reconcile with the fact that all technology is not equal. Do you hear that sound? Yeah, that’s dial-up Internet. Welcome home! It’s a rule—all parents are required to be at least ten years behind current technology trends. No, you’re not going blind; you just aren’t watching HDTV. Reconcile with the fact that you’re never going to be able to read the score of the football game on the 20” screen in your family’s living room, and use that time to instead give your mom a tutorial on how to use her brand new iPhone 4. No, Mom, you can’t talk to this one. Just, because. Talking louder isn’t going to change anything. Google maps isn’t working because you typed in your home address … and we’re already home.
4. Give your family the benefit of the doubt. It can be hard to let go of prejudices born of childhood drama. You may still think that your dad is tooootally trying to control your life, or that your sister is a copycat hack with no original ideas of her own (everyone knows that I started liking Hanson first!), but remember that these people love you, unconditionally. You aren’t always the most delightful ray of sunshine that ever graced the earth either, but they put up with you. So suck it up and eat the meatloaf.
5. Patience is not a virtue, it’s the best virtue. No matter how much you love your family, there will certainly come a point this holiday season when you find yourself at your wit’s end. You’ve eaten the meatloaf, you’ve explained your ambiguous career ambitions to no less than seven judgmental relatives at seven different times, and you’ve invested what feels like a quarter of your life listening to the scintillating details of Uncle Larry’s latest LARPing escapades. When will the madness end?? Take a deep breath, put on your empathy pants, top off your eggnog, and say, “Uncle Larry, won’t you please tell me more about the time you were crosscast by the game master and went into live combat without any spell packets?” A little patience can be truly magical. Trust me.
This all really boils down to understanding, patience and a little (or a lot of, depending on how big your family is) booze. Family is a wonderful, awesome, frustrating gift, so enjoy every minute that you can with them this holiday season.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Daniel Parks