Surviving Christmas with the relatives

Posted: December 13, 2018

Closing in on the holidays spikes stress levels for teens, luckily Counselors have great ways to cope.

“We’ve discovered two critical things: one, most Americans feel that Christmas is a time for family. Two, most Americans feel that in order to stand being around their family, for even one or two days, they need to swill as much alcohol as humanly possible.”

This line comes from Ben Affleck’s comedy film Surviving Christmas (2004), which may be far from a critically acclaimed film, but like many other holiday films, it hits the spot when it comes to joking about dysfunctional families getting together during the holidays. Some of us would like to sit on the couch all day with our eyes glued to the Hallmark movie channel, but eventually you have to get to Aunt Linda’s Christmas Party. Even though it may be joked about in movies, in reality, family gatherings can be a serious subject. Luckily, Minnehaha’s counselors have a few great pieces of advice for surviving the holidays.

With the holidays smothering our schedules, we are bound to have a few family gatherings planned. Whether you’re the youngest or oldest cousin by six years, whether you are struggling with mental health issues or you have an uncle that rips on you every year, or you just simply don’t enjoy your relatives, the family parties can become dreaded occasions. They may seem impossible to survive.

Informing parents about your reluctance of attending family gatherings can be crucial. Christine Paton, school counselor, recommends being transparent and open towards parents about your lack of comfort with going to these gatherings.

When your presence at a family gathering is required, prepare for it. Talk to your parents about the duration of the party you are required to stay for. Paton suggests bringing a book, phone, or something to keep you occupied if there is no one you connect with.

Connecting with relatives that are far from your age can be challenging. Finding a game or activity that interests everyone can really bring a crowd together. Sometimes, it can even be more entertaining than scrolling through your phone.

“I think be aware of the host, and the amount of work they put into the meal and making the celebration special,” said Paton. “Be sure to thank them for their effort.”

To thank your host, try setting down the phone. You could try some conversation if you are comfortable with your relatives. It’s much more polite to engage and converse with those at the gathering than to sit on the couch and become entranced by your little bright light.

With annoying relatives, it is understandable to want to be occupied by your phone. We all have that one aunt or uncle we dread talking with during the holidays.

“We often will find certain family members annoying or off-putting,” said Paton. “But, it’s also an opportunity to try to see good in people we disagree with, to love people who are difficult, and to tolerate those who may be, well, intolerable.”

Often, adults have a difficult time relating to teenagers. But, they usually have one go-to question, “So, have you thought about college?” You need to have a go-to answer. It might reduce stress to have a statement ready to go. Answer the question, and redirect the attention towards someone or something else.

Annoying relatives and age gaps might be the biggest problem for some when they attend holiday gatherings. For others, their anxiety lies with other concerns. Dealing with mental health issues can impede on the fun. Paton’s advice for those who are struggling is to communicate with your support people. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance, stay on prescribed medications, and have a plan for when it gets just a bit too overwhelming.

“Family gatherings can be hard,” Paton said. “They’re not perfect, because our family members aren’t perfect. Try to enjoy your family, listen to stories, treasure the traditions, accept your family members for who they are, and show grace and love.”

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