Thanksgiving 1989. Aunt Bess rambled on and on about how the legal driving age should be raised to 21. Aunt Marion seconded the opinion, adding that they should up the voting age while they’re at it. It was the only thing they ever agreed on. My grandmother was hovering in one corner of the kitchen trying to avoid the “rays” of the microwave. Grandpa agreed with his daughters and offered the idea that President Bush (Sr., then) could make a federal law prohibiting all teenage rights. Mom and Dad nodded in unison.
I excused myself from the table and locked the bathroom door behind me. At 16, I was tired of my generation being disrespected. The Bible verse about not looking “down upon children because of their youth” flashed through my irritated mind. I knew my relatives weren’t intentionally being malicious, but it left me feeling aggravated. I wanted to punch the mirror or put a hole in the wall like they did in the movies, but I was too practical—and honestly too gangly—to muster up the strength. Instead, I took the plastic comb out of my back pocket and threw it against the wall. It bounced, limply, off the wall and landed in the toilet bowl. A sad gesture of irritation that went completely nowhere.
My relatives had a way of getting under my skin despite being decent people overall. And so goes holiday after holiday, year after year. The adage, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family” rings true. Dealing with the lovable patchwork of misfits is a challenge most of us face once or twice each year. As Grandma ladles some warm fruit soup in your bowl and passive-aggressively criticizes the way you live your life, remind yourself, God is using my family to build character in my life.
So, look for the good in your relatives, and make the best of your time with them.
THE CRANKY UNCLE
Nearly everyone knows a curmudgeon. Do your best to reach out to the unlovable within your family. Find out why your family member feels like an outsider and do what you can to make him or her feel part of the holiday, even if that means hiding in the corner and bonding together.
THE “MARTHA” SISTER
Don’t allow a family member to handle all the busy work and thereby play the martyr. Tell her you want to contribute to the workload. But the bottom line is acceptance. If being direct doesn’t work, accept that you can’t change your sibling. Don’t allow one person to carry the workload, even if they seem to enjoy it. Grab those folding chairs downstairs and bring them up to the table before your family member does it.
THE GOSSIPING COUSIN
To avoid a holiday of inappropriate gossip, turn the conversation horizontally. Ask heartfelt questions about the gossipers own life. Refuse to allow idle, pointless chitchat to surface. If the conversation starts to shift toward tearing others down, point the subject inward. Jump in and say something like, “You know, lately I’ve been feeling as if I’m …” Pointing the conversation to yourself—or the person you’re chatting with—forces you to avoid the rumor mill.
THE DARK HUMORED AUNT
Come out of your non-confrontational, passive-aggressive comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to be up-front with family members when they say inappropriate things, and don’t allow their blood-relations to cloud your common sense. You wouldn’t allow your coworker to treat you that way. Don’t let your relatives treat you that way either.
PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
Use the end of the year to face self-evaluation. How do you come across to your friends and your family? Examine your own characteristics, moods, and habits. Are you a know-it-all? Are you bossy? Inappropriately sarcastic? Too shy? Too passive-aggressive? The cranky one in the corner? Your relatives may find some of your personality ticks annoying too.
Family members aren’t always the ones at fault. Sometimes we negatively contribute to the situation. “One of the healthiest steps we ever make in our relationships is when we own our piece of the pie,” says Les Parrott, founder of RealRelationships.com.
Dr. Parrott advises stepping up and taking responsibility for contributing to a bad relationship. That action instantly makes room for grace to come in and ease the tension. “One of the best ways to do this is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” says Parrott. “Imagine what they think and feel. This isn’t for cowards. It takes mental muscle to accurately see through their eyes. But when we do, we gain a fresh perspective that brings with it humility and better understanding.”
With the holidays impending, keep in mind that the members of your family are human. Extend the same grace to them you do with your friends or coworkers during the rest of the year. Being linked by blood doesn’t mean you should allow your blood to boil so quickly. Keeping that in mind will go a long way in making your holiday time with them merry. Well, merrier.