The holiday survival guide to help you prepare for the family challenges that await
It’s time to face the facts: You may need a holiday family survival guide this year. In the 1995 film Home for the Holidays, Claudia Larson returns to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving, where she is confronted by the wacky and difficult realities of family. “When you go home, do you look around and wonder, Who are these people? and Where did I even come from?” she asks. According to Andrew Sofin, a licensed couples and family therapist and psychotherapist based in Montreal, these feelings are common. “We create stories around our families, especially in North America,” he says. “We’ve created this idea about how families are supposed to be quite homogenous entities. The idea is that your family should reflect who you are, so we take it personally if somebody [is] different.” (This is how to ensure that you have a much happier holiday than you did last year.)
While many simply try to eat the pain away, there are less-fattening coping mechanisms. “First and foremost, check your expectations at the door,” says Sofin. Before attending your next holiday dinner, write down the guest list and add two sentences next to each name: one that says what you like about the person and one that says what you dislike. “You’ll go into it with a different frame of mind,” he says. For instance, if you have an aunt who is particularly nosy, reminding yourself that she is also warm, welcoming and sweet will help you realize that her inquisitiveness stems from the heart.
While there are no hard and fast rules to etiquette, going in with a game plan can make for a winning evening. Here, we break down five of the most common (ahem) difficult personalities you may share table space with this holiday season with expert advice on how to handle any situation with grace, dignity and compassion – or at least make it through to dessert in one piece.