’Tis the season to be happy ... but if you find yourself dreading another Christmas dinner with a moody sister or a difficult aunt, take a leaf from Francis Brennan’s guide to life and learn how to survive any family occasion.
No matter how well we might get on with our families, there’s nothing like a family occasion— like Christmas—to magnify any family difficulties. We’re grown up and have gone about our daily lives and may even have families of our own, and yet the minute we step over the threshold of our family home we start squabbling with our brothers and sisters, and resenting Mum for asking us to do the washing up… or worse.
Many of us would like to experience the ‘perfect family occasion’, but it’s not always possible, even in the happiest of families.
I think it’s important to remember one thing: you don’t have to revert to your ten-year-old self with your family.
You’re now an adult and can choose to behave like one, no matter what the provocation. Maybe your sister starts teasing you about how untidy, forgetful or scattered you were when you were twelve—just rise above it and bring the conversation around to what you’re doing now.
You don’t have to bite back by recalling some embarrassing incident from your childhood; instead, talk about your holiday to Brazil or the volunteering work you’re doing.
The same goes for the role you play in your family. Maybe they expect you to host Christmas for them all, because you’ve always been the organiser. Well, you can simply say that you have other plans or are going to Paris this year!
Once Mum and Dad are too elderly to host Christmas the children should take it in turns.
If you have stressful family relationships, can you try to put them to one side, just for one day? This may seem like the most difficult thing in the world, but try to remember that it really is only one day, and then you can return to your life.
The same goes for the unpopular guest—Auntie Bridie, say, who always complains that the turkey is undercooked and that she hasn’t got enough roast potatoes. You’ll have to grit your teeth, but, try not to get upset. Auntie Bridie is probably secretly delighted that someone wants her for Christmas.
It can really help too if you set limits on her visit. Offer to drop her home after dinner so that you can control how long she stays.
In fact, setting limits on your own stay might well help you to survive it, if you’re finding it difficult. Go for a couple of hours and then say that you have a drinks party to go to…
Mums and dads set great store by Christmas, as a rule, and hate to have it spoiled by bickering, so if you can think about keeping them happy it might help.
A friend of mine has been separated from her husband for a number of years, but she continued to visit her mother-in-law with her son and ex-husband until her mother-in-law’s death in her eighties. My friend did this because she liked her and didn’t want to upset her, and she felt that she could give up one hour of her Christmas Day to visit her with her family. Everyone was happy.
The other thing to bear in mind is that Christmas, especially, is really all about the children. To me, Christmas morning is very important for young families, and children should open their presents then. Making them wait until the afternoon is torture… There’s something very special about Christmas morning, when the house is in bedlam and we’re all looking at our new things.
Alcohol also looms large at many an Irish celebration. Remember, it’s a long day, so it pays not to overdo it and then feel worse for wear in the middle of the afternoon—or, indeed, to decide that it’s time to deliver some home truths!
And be realistic about your expectations for any family event. You won’t suddenly turn into the Waltons because you’ve been thrown together for a day to celebrate a nephew’s Confirmation. Be realistic and practical about what you can do to negotiate the day and even to enjoy it. As the comedian George Burns said, ‘Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city!’
This is an extract from It’s The Little Things, Francis Brennan’s Guide to Life - available nationwide and from our Online Shop (20% off RRP). Also available as an eBook.
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