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Three Tips to Surviving a Family Holiday

Warren and Betsy Talbot are a Seattle-based, 40-something couple who gave up high pressure-jobs to live and work on the road. Their insights and experiences are shared through their website and blog, Married with Luggage.

Their recent offering “Surviving a Family Holiday” arrived just before Thanksgiving, the most-traveled time of the year:

You pack your bags, load up the car, get on a plane, and arrive tired and frazzled many hours later into the loving arms of your family. When you really just want to veg out and read, watch television, or go to bed, you have to be “on” to connect with the family you haven’t seen for a very long time.

The next day, you have a holiday to attend: group outings, pictures, a big dinner, and lots of togetherness under one roof. The kids are running around, in-laws are trying to understand the family dynamic and why their partners are behaving weird, and too many people are sharing too few bathrooms.

There is a lot of love in the air, but compression makes it highly flammable. And it only takes a small spark to start a simmering burn that leads to a raging inferno.

Your sister says something about your weight. Or your dad asks why you’re still driving that old beater of a car. Your mom still treats you like a baby even though you manage a team of 20 at work. Your brother makes a negative comment about how you discipline your kids. Your kids are being spoiled rotten by their grandparents. You have jealousy over your siblings’ accomplishments or have to deflect their jealousy of your own.

All those issues from your childhood that you thought you left behind are waiting for you, along with the love and belonging and happy memories you want to share. So how do you bypass the turmoil of a family visit and just enjoy the good stuff?

Here are 3 strategies you can use to save the day:

Feedback is often more about the person giving it than the recipient. Once you realize this, you can use it to deepen your relationships. Their judgment of you is a judgment of themselves (and vice versa, if you want to perform a little self-therapy). Instead of reacting, think about where the comment is coming from and show compassion. It’s usually not about your weight, your kids, or your income; it’s a concern they have about their own weight, kids and income.

Turning the mirror on yourself is an incredibly useful exercise when you get irritated at someone else’s behavior. There is a link between what frustrates us about others and what we most dislike in ourselves. Ask yourself, “How am I like that?” It’s an eye-opening experience and one that will turn your frustration where it will do the most good – on yourself.

Sometimes you have creepy relatives or in-laws, and in those cases it is good to set boundaries. It’s okay to disagree, to tell Aunt Nancy tattoos are not an indication of a stint in prison or that your divorce is not going to bring everlasting shame upon the family name.

The old saying, “you can never go home again” is true. Home doesn’t stay static, and neither do you. When you return you are an enhanced version of who you were before, and so are the people you left. It’s sometimes hard to try to put those family puzzle pieces back together for a long weekend when the shapes have changed, but with a little bit of effort you’ll be able to enjoy the new picture it creates.

Your challenge: Think about your biggest challenges with a family visit before you go, whether it is the logistics of getting the whole family there or an emotional issue in getting along with a particular person. Map out in your head how you’ll be handling it so it will be a default reaction.

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