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How to survive Christmas with a dysfunctional family

Every Christmas it’s the same old thing. The joy and anticipation of Christmas goes out the window the minute you arrive at a family gathering. Mad Aunt Bertha tells you you’re looking fat, while your father makes the same old jokes about inviting your estranged mother for Christmas dinner, and everyone quizzes you about when you are going to settle down, get a hair cut and get a real job. Within minutes your blood is boiling, and spending Christmas alone with a bucket of KFC in front of the TV seems like a better option. Of course, you can’t avoid family get-togethers forever; what you need is coping strategies to deal with a dysfunctional family.

Woman stressing out over Christmas |

Lower your expectations

It sounds pessimistic, but by lowering your expectations of having a good time, the less likely you are to be gripped by bitter disappointment. In fact, you might even be pleasantly surprised if the day turns out better than you anticipated. It’s unlikely your family’s behaviour will have changed in the 12 months since last Christmas, so chant the serenity prayer, have a few spiked eggnogs prior to your arrival, and prepare for the worst.

Play “You didn’t just say that” bingo

Prior to Christmas Day, get together with a few of your close friends, and make up bingo cards. Instead of writing numbers on the cards, fill the squares with questions and statements family members normally make on Christmas Day. For example: weight cracks, unsolicited advice, fake smiles, eye rolls, put-downs, etc. Meet up at New Year’s to decide the winner, who shall then be treated to free drinks or lunch.

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Plan an overseas holiday

If you can’t trust yourself to not react to snippy comments or not show up armed with ammunition to shoot down anyone who even looks at you the wrong way, perhaps it’s best you remove yourself from the situation. It’s not necessary to announce you’re avoiding Christmas because you can’t stand your family; simply plan an overseas holiday backpacking, or head off on a cruise.

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Apply the fish rule

“House guests — like fish — begin to smell after three days.” If you’re having family stay over during the holiday period, give them three days’ grace, and then ship them off to a hotel. It sounds harsh, but it might be the only thing that saves your sanity when dealing with a dysfunctional family. Set boundaries before they descend on your doorstep.

Change the subject

The best way to deflect the conversation away from you is to bring up a hotly debated subject that everyone in the room will have an opinion on. For example, you could suggest that the U.S. is superior to Canada, and see what kind of backlash occurs. Politics, religion and your brother’s drinking problem should suffice as well.

Keep it short and sweet

Plan to help distribute toys at the children’s hospital or to serve up Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter. By making other plans, you have a legitimate reason to collect your gifts, grab a bite to eat and then leave. By limiting the amount of time you spend with your family on Christmas Day, you can walk away with your self-esteem still reasonably intact.

More on Christmas

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Family staying with you over the holidays? Don’t panic!

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