Your Ultimate Guide to Surviving Family Gatherings

Nothing can try your patience more than family gatherings. So, how do you get through these get-togethers with your wits – and your family – still intact?

My family likes to congregate on all holidays. Whether it’s the major ones, like Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving, or minor ones, like National Tree Growing Day or International Bird Flying Day (okay, maybe I’m going a little overboard here, but you get the point).

So, when it comes to survival, my skills are often tested on a routine basis.

Don’t get me wrong as I love my family dearly. I wouldn’t trade any one of them for the world. But, that doesn’t mean that we all always see eye to eye.

Even if I have no problems with aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins, that doesn’t mean that they get along. And, as any family drama usually goes, they try to suck everyone else into it and create a rift where none needs to be.

That means that it may take a little or a lot of extra effort to ride the wave of family distress and come out on the other side still above water and not feeling like you’ve been bitten by a shark.

Here are the things that I do to help me (and they may even help you too):

#1: Be realistic

My family is who my family is. No amount of wishing is going to change them. I can walk into every family event with the goal of altering personalities and conflicts, but I also know that with that attitude I will walk out feeling defeated because there is no way that is ever going to happen (at least not in my lifetime).

The more realistic I am about how the family gathering is going to go, the less disappointed I am because I’m not surprised if two people don’t get along or if someone says something crass.

I already expect that to happen so I’m not caught off guard and inclined to do something impulsive. I can tailor my responses beforehand because I am honest about what is going to happen.

#2: Avoid problem people

Some people will never get along, whether related by blood or not. And, you don’t have to talk to someone or be around them simply because you’re relatives. So, if you’re at odds, the best thing to do is avoid them.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to run from them at family functions or that you can snub them with disrespect and disregard. It just means that you can make other people, people that you actually enjoy being around, the focal point of the gathering.

Be pleasant to the people you don’t particularly see eye to eye with, but don’t extend your stay with them or things can go bad really quick.

#3: Declare off limit topics


Most any family has topics that ignite a discussion that isn’t all too pleasant. Maybe they revolve around politics or religion, or perhaps you don’t agree on other “hot” topics like gay marriage or the state of the nation.

My ideology is that if we are going to get heated about a particular topic, then it has no place at a family gathering that should be centered around love and creating cherished memories.

If someone violates this “rule” that I’ve set up in my mind and brings up a topic that is likely to spark a negative confrontation, I switch the topic. I take the conversation into another direction so that we’re talking about something positive and light.

And, if the person tries to drag it back into chaos, I go in another direction yet. I have a lot of stamina in regard to this and can outlast the best of them!

#4: Be prepared to walk away

When time with family gets too heavy, like when it gets too heated or you can feel your fuse getting shorter and shorter, you have to be prepared to walk away and catch your breath. If you don’t, you risk saying something that you will most likely wish that you hadn’t.

Some people feel that it is cowardly or a cop-out to walk away from a tense situation, but it is actually more noble than the alternative.

Anyone can be impulsive and stay and fight, but it takes someone strong to tell themselves that it’s much better to take the high road than to give in and play the game that so many families like to play.

#5: Keep your humor

two young african women laughing at a dinner party

Family can be really funny if you think about it. After all, that is where most great comedians get their jokes from – their family. So, be willing to find the humor in yours and you’ll likely fare much better when surrounded by them.

When you feel like you’re going to lose it with family, imagine how you can pull a funny out of it. Think about how you would share a story about the gathering with friends later and how much they’ll laugh about it. That may help you laugh while going through it and make it much more fun to endure.

#6: Create a distraction

family playing board game

One great way to throw off the “normal” dynamics of your family is to create a distraction. Do something that you wouldn’t typically do so that you don’t have to go through the normal events of your uncle who complains the whole time or your aunt who pushes food on you from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave.

A good distractor is a family game (it can be one you create or a board type game is a great option too). If you make the distraction activity based, then you can involve everyone and create some new and exciting memories. Ones that distract family from same old, same old.

At some of our family gatherings, a different family member is responsible each year for the activities so they’re always fresh and new. Everyone takes part in making it a fun and pleasurable time so that problems are less likely to creep up.

Even though family can definitely be trying at times, they’re the only one you got. Take them and cherish them for who they are, for someday you may actually miss them. It may hard to believe at this moment in time, but it is true nonetheless.

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About the author

Christina DeBusk

Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.

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