Family battles are never any fun. But when you find yourself serving a turkey dinner to two warring factions in your dining room, you may feel there’s precious little to be thankful for. So here’s something just for you: a guide to getting the extended family to enjoy each other without a fuss or fight. You’re welcome.
Set your expectations early.
In most families, the feuds are well known. So arm yourself with information, and start spreading the word early. Its perfectly fine to say something like, “Uncle Tim, we’re really excited that you’re coming for Thanksgiving. Aunt Sally will also be there. I’m asking both of you to behave like adults. You don’t have to talk to each other, but you can’t fight in my home.”
Let people know that you’ll do your best to accommodate them — careful seating arrangements can help — but make it clear that they’ll need to do their part as well. And just as in parenting, never make a threat you can’t carry out. If you tell people you won’t have fighting in your home, be ready to show them the door if necessary.
Explain what’s at stake.
There’s a reason you’re inviting both sides, right? So let them know. “Dave and I want to spend the holidays with you and with his parents. We want the kids to see all four of their grandparents. But if this doesn’t go well, we’ll have to invite you on alternate years, and you won’t see the kids as often as you’d like. “
Don’t hesitate to play to people’s emotions, as well. Tell them what you need them to do, and give them a reason. For example, you can say, “Marcia, I really want you to be here for Thanksgiving. But it really upsets Jan when you criticize her work. I need you to make a real effort to be kind to her so that we can all have a good holiday. It’s important to me that my daughters see that sisters can get along. Will you help me?”
Know your audience.
Work with other family members to keep contact between the biggest rivals to a minimum. Get creative — maybe one group of cousins can play football outside while another group delivers Meals on Wheels. Corral your father in the kitchen to carve the bird while your father-in-law takes the kids for a nature walk.
Give people specific jobs that play to their strengths, and keep a running list of chores handy so you can send people on mini-errands as necessary. Most importantly, make sure the entire event has clear start and end times so that you aren’t micro-managing into the wee hours.
Family is tough, and it’s hard to be rational about emotional relationships. But you’re perfectly within your rights to expect adults to behave as such. Make your requirements clear, and you should be able to enjoy your family get-together.