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Navigating the holidays with family.

A Holiday Survival Guide To Navigating Family Gatherings

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Imagine this family gathering: ten perfectly dressed, well-behaved adults and children, seated around a beautifully decorated table filled with an assortment of delicious, gourmet food. 

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe if you live in a magazine or movie set.

For the rest of us, the holidays aren’t perfect. If you’re preparing for family gatherings this holiday season, here’s your survival guide to help you make it to the new year.

Manage your expectations

When you’re preparing to survive family gatherings during the holiday season, it’s important to manage your expectations. 

Do any of these relatives sound familiar?

The one who drinks too much. The one who makes judgmental comments about your life choices or parenting. The one who only wants to talk about sports. The one who makes everyone pose for hundreds of photographs. The one whose cooking is awful. The one with kids who never behave.

This list is not all-inclusive, but you get the idea.

Here’s the thing. If you go into your family gathering this year expecting these people to be different and for the experience to be better, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.

After all, people rarely change. And you can’t control who they are or what they do.

What you can control are your expectations.

Expect your relatives to be exactly who they are and to act like they always have. Yes, things might be better this year. But they might not. And honestly, it’s fine if things aren’t perfect.

You can also control your behavior and boundaries. 

Avoid certain topics of conversation or certain relatives (if you can). While everyone else is yelling at the TV during the “big game,” read a book somewhere quiet if you want to. Don’t feel obligated to take a turn holding someone else’s baby.

Essentially, if you are realistic about what to expect and plan your behavior and boundaries accordingly, you have a much better chance of surviving the holidays.

Practice mindfulness and self-care during family gatherings

Even if you love every moment of family gatherings, you should take care not to overextend yourself. Traveling or hosting groups of people takes time, energy, and mental stamina.

Sometimes, though, there are relatives who are difficult to spend time with. Or gatherings tend to end up full of drama or tension. Maybe everyone is expected to participate in an activity, and you don’t really enjoy it, but you put on a happy face anyway.

Any of these situations can add to the stress of family gatherings over the holidays.

Practice mindfulness. Be aware of your heart rate rising or if you start to feel hot. Then, take some steps to calm down.

You might try:

  • taking a few deep breaths
  • stepping outside for a minute or two
  • seeking out a relative whose presence is calming
  • excusing yourself from an uncomfortable conversation
  • drinking water or having a snack

Practice self-care. Just because you are with family over the holidays doesn’t mean you must ignore the things you enjoy. Maintain your familiar routines as much as you can, including exercise or a nighttime beauty routine.

Set and follow through with personal boundaries. Consider setting appropriate boundaries for yourself. Saying no to too many holiday parties or gatherings is completely okay. If you know they will only cause you to feel stressed and overwhelmed say no. You don’t need to have a reason other than you simply cannot make it. Give yourself permission to decline. You know yourself best and how much you can handle. Set boundaries and stick to them during the holidays and year-round.

Prepare your children (and your partner) to survive the holidays

If you have kids, they probably look forward to the holidays. However, children also like routines. When they are in strange places, eating strange food, and hanging around strange people, they might also start to act… strange.

Talk to them about what to expect in advance. Show them photographs of relatives they only see once or twice a year. Let them pack a bag of their favorite snacks, toys, books, or stuffed animals. Give in to screen time, because if watching a video on their tablet keeps them from having a tantrum or oversharing their teenage attitude, it’s a win for everyone. 

Also explain boundaries and expectations, such as “no phone during dinner” or “stay out of Grandma’s bedroom.”

Remember that your kids may not feel completely comfortable around extended family. You can teach them what to do if a relative asks for a hug or kiss and they don’t want to give one: “No, thank you. Can I have a high five instead?”

Don’t neglect to prepare your partner, too, especially if it’s their first time at one of your family gatherings. They should also know what to expect. Are there relatives to avoid if they’ve been drinking? Topics to never bring up? Traditions they’ll be asked to participate in?

When you’re going to your partner’s family gathering for the first time, ask the same questions so you know what you’re getting into and how best to manage.

Try to incorporate positive experiences

You can’t please everyone. Some people seem to want to be miserable. But you can certainly try to please most people. Here are some ways to incorporate positive experiences during family gatherings:

Change your outlook. Aim to notice something nice about each of your family members and compliment them. Looking for the positives can improve your mood, and compliments will help improve everyone else’s. You can also give back this holiday season and make the most of helping others.

Plan games and activities. Consider taking a walk with some relatives, especially since it feels nice to get some exercise outside. Other activities like games can promote family collaboration and fun competition.

Organize a gift exchange. It’s nice to receive gifts, but it’s also rewarding to give them. Gift-giving can create a “warm glow” effect. This feeling might be exactly what your family gathering needs this holiday season.

If you need some tips to keep gift-giving positive for everyone, here are some ideas:

Giftster can help you with your gift-giving needs at your upcoming family gatherings. Let us help you survive the holidays with easy wishlists and Secret Santas. We’ll help you get the gifts right so you and your relatives can enjoy time together.

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