Surviving Family During The Holidays

By | November 20, 2012

Surviving Family During The Holidays

Hey Guys!

So, something kinda new for this glorious season we are entering this very week. I’m writing up my own “guide” for navigating the holidays. A handbook, if you like. HillJean’s Holiday Handbook, if you’re like me and enjoy alliteration more than is good for you.

Each Tuesday, from now until New Years, I will attempt to sound like an expert and share some tips for how to survive the holidays. We’ll see what happens. I might just get on your nerves.

{Climbs onto soapbox. Clears throat}

Today, I want to talk about surviving family. You know, how we can make that time spent with them a better experience for all and not a time of terror and stress.

You know that expression, “All because two people fell in love”? People decal it onto their wall beside their family collages and such. It’s really, very cute. But that expression, like the holidays, works both ways.

All because two people fell in love (or all because two people hooked up). You can view it as an admirable, shining, and cherished amalgamation. Or, you can see it as a terrible, complicated, and catastrophic misfortune. Maybe a little bit of both?

Sure, it boils down to the “two people” who first fell in love with each other. After a while, though, those people multiply. Soon you have  aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters, steps and inlaws, cousins, nieces, nephews, and some unrelated oddballs who always show up at family functions.

What do you do with this mixture of individuals who supposedly came together because “two people fell in love”? Spending time with them is work. I know that within each family there is at least one component of crazy. Some families only have one component of normal–and maybe you’re it. What do you do with these people?

No matter who is in your mixture, there are a few steps you can take to better enjoy your crazies family.

I come from a large family. Six kids, to be exact. Three of us are married, one has a girlfriend, and there are five nieces and nephews between. At four, Coco is the oldest so you can bet there are many more little munchkins to come!

Growing up, we were always in each other’s business–sharing rooms, sharing friends, and sharing camaraderie as siblings.

Now that we’re older, there is a lot less that we share. We are no longer merely a unit of siblings. We are individuals with very distinct and different lives. Getting us all together is hard work with all the competing schedules we have to coordinate. When we do make it happen, the outcome of our gathering will either be wonderful or disappointing.

Here’s why:

It’s overwhelming to be around so much family at one time. While we can rehash memories til we’re blue in the face, a more challenging task is to find out who these people are today. What is important to them now? What do we have in common anymore?

Have you ever noticed that when you get together with family people revert back to old behaviors and expect you to do the same? Like, maybe you were known as the dramatic cry-baby who made a big deal out of everything. You’re not that person anymore, but your family members know that version of you better than they do the current one.

Surviving Family During The Holidays

So, you fall into your expected role and your siblings fall into theirs. There is the goofball who no one takes seriously. The bully who pinches you in the hallway. The “baby” who will never grow up because no one will let her.

I’m not necessarily describing my family here. We have two goofballs and no bully. And there’s no way I’m dramatic. But I have seen this in other families.


I think that if you want to really enjoy your family during the holidays you have to do some homework.

There has to be a connection in order to have a good, fulfilling time shared as a family. There has to be more than just seeing each other a few times a year. Here are some things you can do to preemptively kick Holiday Awkwardness/Tension in the butt:

5 tips

1.) Put away all bitterness.

I can preach this one to myself while I’m at it. If you go into the season with a chip on your shoulder because of something that happened over the summer or even last Christmas–this Christmas will be ruined. Trust me, I have single-handedly ruined a holiday because of my own little bitter chip. Bitterchip. Bitterchip. Try saying that ten times fast.

The best thing to do with a bitterchip is to resolve the issue and forgive. Put the sucker away! And where there’s still tension, show grace. Lots and lots of it. When you do that: two things happen. 1. You get rid of all your bitter feelings. 2. You learn to love them in spite of your differences.

2.) Get to know those people before Christmas each year. Make some phone calls and schedule some dates. That’s right, dates.

I assure you, if you “do your homework” and extend the olive branch before the holidays you will be closer to that person during the holidays. Quality, one-on-one time is what you need. Sometimes that’s not available due to distance. So get creative. Set up a Skype date or a Google Hangout (I did that the other day, by the way and it was so fun!) and chat before the craziness of the holidays can set in.

So that would be, like, this week. Get crack-a-lack-an.

3.) When you do gather as a family, try to set aside time to “get to know” everyone again. Bond.

I still need that bonding time with my parents and siblings. Truth be told, I’m at my parents house right now and I needed to have a heart-to-heart with mom to feel my place here. It’s weird, and maybe I’m just needy, but it works.

4.) Laugh a lot. While grace covers all, laughter makes it fun and sweet. Embrace your differences and try, for the love of Pete, to laugh at them. But not in a mean way.

5.) Remember, it’ll be over before you know it. Put yourself out there. Suck it up. Have a glass of wine. Pray.

When it’s all said and done, you need to love your family. And your family members need to know that they won’t lose your love if they change or do something you don’t approve of. The ties between family are not conditional. You can’t break ’em. You may be able to shake the oddball who keeps turning up, but you can’t get rid of your sister. Your dad. Your kid. They’re family.

Gosh dangit.

Do you know how many problems would disappear if people knew without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved? That there is forgiveness and grace and laughter and fun in this life?

 {Steps off soapbox and bursts into an Irish jig}
So…um…how about them ‘Niners??
Alright, I promise next week I won’t be so preachy. Consider this your pep talk for Thanksgiving.

30 thoughts on “Surviving Family During The Holidays

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  2. Margaret

    I would like to ask you for advice. I come from a family of six four brothers and a sister, five grand kids. I have a two year old daughter and my oldest brother has three kids two of them are close in age to my daughter. Last week my daughter bite his son. I was not around when it happened and came into the room when he was screaming at my daughter. I picked her up and left the room and he left the house with his kids and wife. I talk to my daughter about not biting and how she hurt her cousin. I felt bad but she had never done anything like that before. I was upset with my brother for yelling at her but I let it go. My older brother and I have never really been that close. I have been felling really bad because yesterday my sister told me he called her and vented to her about me and how I’m not a good mother and my daughter is not a Good kid that his kids would never bite someone and basically just said a lot of really mean things about me. I’m trying very hard to forgive him but the things he said were hurtful. My husband is deployed and I am doing the best I can alone. I want to just make thing right between me and my brother. I’m just not sure what to do. My sister told me to forget about it and that he didn’t mean it. I just can’t get over it. I don’t even want to see him again but I have to. Do you think I should confront him? Or just ack like I don’t know that he said those things and just reach out and make plans with him? If you could tell me what to do. I would greatly appreciate your advice. If you have time? Because I would love this to just be normal.

    Thank you so much! I love what you wrote!

    I can really relate!

    1. hillary

      Thats a tough one! Unfortunately, kids bite and it has nothing to do with the kind of parent you are. My kids have bit me randomly and it hurt so bad that it almost drew blood!

  3. Chris Carter

    Oh this is just PERFECT!! So funny and yet so true with everything you shared! Waiting on my sister and kids and hubby to make it over and going to another sister’s house tomorrow. Oh yes…. I agree with EVERY single thing you said! Bucking up for grace, laughter and a bit of respect no matter what happens. Gonna try! ????

  4. Margo Hayes

    Great advice… and I can’t wait to see your brother’s and sister’s faces when they see that lovely picture you posted:)))

  5. Kate H

    Great post. I have a group of friends that every year before Christmas, we make fun Fam dysFUNction bingo boards (with things like “2 racist comments from grandma”, “3 family members get tipsy”, or “some ridiculous sibling competition over who can hold plank position the longest begins”). We text each other as they get checked off. And first bingo we buy her lunch. It helps make the hard parts of being with fam at least a little more fun.

    1. hillary

      Oh my gosh! That is so brilliant you need to patent it! I wanna play!

  6. deebs

    bitterchip made me think of chocolate chips… and in the anticipated stress of the coming holidays I just caved and ate chocolate… thanks Hil :-p

    1. hillary

      Hehehe! It made me think of buttercups and butter and chocolate chips, so I totally get that.

  7. Kristiina

    Great advice! I will get on the horn and call some peeps now ????

  8. alison

    Great Great Post!! Holidays can be tragedies sometimes and this is great advice!

    1. hillary

      Thanks, Ali! Are you guys coming down to SoCal for Christmas?

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  10. Jessica

    I have a hard time leaving my bitterness at home as well. This year most of my extended family is going to be out of town so I have mixed feelings about the day. I’m looking forward to having a day just with my family but know there are people I will miss too.

    1. hillary

      Hmmm. So it will be easier on the one hand and a little sad on the other. Holidays are always a little bit of both.

  11. amber

    Such a great post! Families can be so tough. Grace and Forgiveness is definitely the key ingredient for a happy holiday! Love ya!

  12. Meredith

    Thanks for the pep talk–it is needed! It is so hard to get rid of that bitterness when it comes to some family, but it’s so important to shed it. Thanks for the reminder and tips before we head into these holidays. And LOVE the pic ????

    1. hillary

      I know. Totally preaching it to myself. I have to remember it each year.

  13. Blond Duck

    Popped in from SITS! It’s true–I always feel like a kid around my parents again.

  14. Margaret

    Aw thank you soo much that really helps a lot!

    I really appreciate your advice!


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  16. Shell

    Love this! I have a hard time letting go of that bitter chip. It seems like everytime I do, some moron decides to bring up whatever it was that put that chip there in the first place.


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