Surviving family at Christmas

Does your family Christmas get-together make you want to suffocate yourself in your stocking? You're not the only one. Here's The Mix's guide to surviving festive family time.

three fingers with faces drawn on and a Christmas hat.

Say no to carolling!

We blame Hollywood. Where else would people get the ludicrous notion that Christmas is all about hugging your family by the fireplace whilst wearing matching jumpers? The more likely reality? Sibling squabbles, pissed parents, and you suddenly regressing to your 14-year-old self and screaming “I NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN!”

It’s A Wonderful Life? Not when your family’s around. So how do you navigate relative hell over the festive period? The Mix asked Agony Aunt Suzie Hayman for her tips.

I don’t want to spend the whole of Christmas with my family

What? You mean you don’t want to spend those precious days stuck solidly inside your childhood prison playing hunt Gran’s teeth? You actually might want to – gasp – go see your mates as well? You heathen you! Actually, it’s totally normal. But how do you break the news to family HQ?

Solution

It’s all about pre-planning. Tell your parents – before you arrive – what days you’re coming and stick to it. “It’s difficult for parents to come to terms with them not being the centre of your life,” says Suzie. “Your friends are the focus of your world, but you have to give and take a bit so as not to disappoint your family.”

Lay out a reasonable timetable with your parents and stay firm. Reassure them that you love them and are looking forward to spending time with them, but there are other things you want to do too.

My parents are divorced. Who do I spend Christmas with?

What’s that whiff of pork floating through the tinsel-clad house? Is it some freshly made pigs in blanket? Some honey-roasted ham? No. It’s you. Being forced to play piggy in the middle between your warring parents. Whoever you choose, the other is going to be upset. Cheers for that one Santa.

Solution

Don’t let either parent do the guilt-trip. It’s, quite simply, not fair. “Remember this predicament wasn’t your choice. You would probably much rather they’d stayed together,” says Suzie. “Parents may say they feel rejected, but don’t buy into that.”

Don’t ask permission to spend time with your other parent. You’re over 16, you’re an adult, and you’re allowed to decide what you want to do this Christmas. Get in touch with both and firmly say, “This is how I would like to do it, how does that fit into your plans?”

“So, what are you doing with your life? Met anyone nice?”

It’s the question every young person who, funnily enough, hasn’t yet achieved a perfect cookie-cutter life – complete with dream job and partner before 25 – DREADS. Some nosy old relative asking “so what are you doing with your life?” or “have you found anyone nice to settle down with?”

All you want to do is yell “NO, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT TO BLOODY DO. I’M SO CONFUSED AND TIRED I COULD CRY. AND EVERY POTENTIAL PARTNER IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, SO I’M TERRIFIED I’LL DIE ALONE AND GET EATEN BY FOXES. THANKS FOR BRINGING UP MY BIGGEST INSECURITIES AT CHRISTMAS, YOU EVIL DINOSAUR.”

But you can’t because, well, it’s a bit rude isn’t it?

Solution

Firstly, calm down. And have some faith in your choices and life. These are important things that take time to sort out and shouldn’t be rushed. “These questions are usually prompted by generational differences,” says Suzie. “People used to marry in their 20s, but now we’re living to 100. The expectation of where you should be and when has changed.”

Instead of giving a prickly response, Suzie recommends starting a discussion with your relatives about how society’s evolved. It may make for a pretty interesting conversation.

I HATE my brother/sister when I’m stuck in a house with them

You get along well enough with your siblings when you’re in your new grown-up-lives. But the moment you’re back in the family home you regress to being five years old. Suddenly THAT argument from 2002 about favouritism resurfaces. Before you know it, the Christmas Day climax isn’t finding out who dies in the EastEnders special, but you yelling ‘IT’S NOT FAIR’ and slamming your old bedroom door.

Solution

This behaviour is surprisingly normal. “Being back in your childhood home takes you back to your childhood ways of thinking,” says Suzie.

The way to avoid festive bust-ups is to identify the trouble triggers beforehand and then try and avoid them. If they’re unavoidable because your sister is actually evil, identifying what winds you up will make it easier to breathe deep and not buy into the fight on the big day.

Mum’s playing the martyr

She’s relatively normal the rest of the year. But just around the time the Coca-Cola ‘holidays are coming’ advert comes on TV, your mother transforms into a neurotic mess. You start getting frantic late-night phone calls about Brussels sprouts. Come the actual day, her nervous energy could power a capital city, and she sobs uncontrollably when the turkey comes out dry.

Solution

Give mum a break and offer to take on some of the work. She’ll tell you not to, but don’t take no for an answer. Whether it’s bringing the Christmas cake, mucking in with roasting the veg, or picking up gramps from the train station – it’s one less chore for her. Get your other family members to take on one chore too.

“Mums feel it’s their job to make Christmas perfect,” says Suzie. “She’ll have unrealistic expectations of herself, so cut her some slack and share the load.”

Photo of singing fingers by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015