Keep stress and family feuds at bay by heeding this advice
by Lambeth Hochwald
Ahh, the holidays. A time for singing carols, trimming the tree, eating turkey… and dealing with family drama. If memories of Christmases past have you dreading December 25, cheer up. With these 10 rules, you can have a happy, headache-free holiday-really!
1. Don't talk politics.
You know the saying: Never discuss religion or politics. If your relatives didn't get the memo-and you're sick of playing referee every year-be ready to nip it in the bud. At the first sign of Obama-bashing or Palin-baiting, jump in and divert their attention. "Change the subject with a remark like, 'The turkey smells terrific, doesn't it? Let's go check on it,'" says Lisa Gaché, founder and CEO of Beverly Hills Manners. And don't take no for an answer, even if it means gently leading one of the debaters into the kitchen.
If the argument continues the minute you get back, lay down your house rule. "Step in and firmly say, 'Let's just agree to disagree,'" says Gaché. "It doesn't validate either side; it simply allows everyone to own his or her opinion and to stop trying to persuade others." Be ready with a new, more lighthearted topic, to move the conversation forward permanently. Photo: BERNAGER ELIE/Getty Images
2. Let go of gift guilt.
Your budget is small, but your family is big. And that has you worried: How are you going to afford gifts for everyone? Luckily, you don't have to spend a ton of cash to have a memorable holiday. Gather your family (and call any relatives you normally exchange gifts with) and suggest that this year you do one of the following: Buy presents only for the kids, do a Secret Santa drawing with a $25 price cap or exchange homemade gifts. "As long as you don't spring this idea on your family too close to Christmas, they will have time to adjust," says Aimee Symington, an etiquette expert in Davidson, North Carolina. In this economy, she adds, they'll probably be relieved that you made the suggestion! If someone says no thanks, then he's free to buy what he wants. You, however, shouldn't feel guilty about sticking to your budgetfriendly plan.3. Take it easy on holiday "spirits."
There's always one relative who has a few too many. To keep Aunt Edna from making a scene-again-don't let her overimbibe in the first place. Easier said than done, you say? Not if you do three things: Designate a family member to serve and monitor alcohol consumption; limit what's served (forgo the pre-dinner drinks and serve only wine with the meal); and relocate your liquor supply (or lock the cabinet) to keep people from helping themselves. If someone asks for a third refill, then a fourth and a fifth, you can always say, "Sorry, I'm all out," says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio. "It's a little uncomfortable, but, at the same time, you have to be proactive if you want to ensure that your guests are safe."
If a relative does get drunk despite your best efforts, don't make a big to-do. Escort him out of the room and either ask a sober family member to drive him home or let him crash in your guest room, says Elise McVeigh, founder of Elise McVeigh's Life Camp, which offers manners workshops in Dallas. Photo: Martin Poole/Getty Images4. Tame the tech.
There's nothing more annoying than someone checking her BlackBerry every five minutes in the middle of your conversation-except maybe teens texting at the dinner table. If you want to make your house a no-tech zone for the day, place a basket near the front door with a sign that reads, Let's raise some holiday cheer and leave our electronic devices here, says Symington. It's a fun way to get across your message: We should be connecting with each other, not our smartphones. If anyone balks, play the family card. "Say that you want the focus to be on family and the meaning of the holiday," says Mollie Marti, PhD, a psychologist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Are you guilting them into going along? Sure, but it's only for a few hours, so don't sweat it.5. Remember, the more the merrier.
You're expecting 10 for dinner but wind up with 14. What happened? Well, your sister decided to bring a date. Your son brought his college roommate. Your mom…well, you get the picture. When unexpected guests show up, stay cool. "Roll with it. Otherwise you'll come off like a diva," advises Mary Mitchell, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette. "If you let your irritation show, you'll make everyone uncomfortable. It's better to be gracious and welcome them." (And make the portions a little smaller!) A good rule of thumb during the holidays: Expect a few surprise guests and plan your menu accordingly. Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty Images
6. Keep gossips in check.
Your niece's miniskirt is way too short. Your cousin shows up without his wife (hmm…those divorce rumors must be true). Every family has stuff to gossip about. But a holiday get-together isn't the time or place for it. "Instead of engaging in it, change the energy and direction of the conversation by elevating the gossiper," says Jill Spiegel, author of How to Talk to Anyone About Anything! The Secrets to Connecting. "Say, 'No, I didn't see Sue's skirt, but I did notice your great haircut. When did you get it done?'" Suddenly, her putdown has been overshadowed by your compliment. With any luck, your positive vibe will be contagious.
If she starts in again, try taking a more direct approach. "Say, 'I understand that you're concerned about Greg coming alone, but I wouldn't want him to overhear us,'" suggests Mindy Lockard, an etiquette consultant in Eugene, Oregon, and founder of TheGraciousGirl.net. Pointing out the possible harmful consequences of her trash talk in a diplomatic way may help put an end to the gossip.7. If you hate your gift, fake it.
Sure, you have a drawerful of ugly sweaters from your cousin Pat. What's one more? Better that than hurt feelings. Besides, your relative may have labored over finding the perfect gift for you, even though she missed the mark, says Lockard. Acknowledge the effort, but keep your appreciation short and sweet. Otherwise, it will come across as phony. "Don't go on and on about how much you love a gift when you don't," says Lockard. "All you need to do is smile and be genuine. Say, 'Thank you so much for thinking of me.' And no matter how much you dislike a present, always send a thank-you note." Photo: Thinkstock
Your Christmas card list is a mile long and the last thing you want to do is deal with it. Relax. This may be the year to skip the whole holiday card thing entirely. Many people on your list would be just as happy to get a phone call from you instead, says McVeigh. Go through your list and check off the people who'd be truly disappointed not to get a card. Send one to them; phone the rest. Or just email holiday wishes to everyone and call it a day.9. Call it a night when you're ready.
Gracefully putting an end to the evening can be tricky. To get the exiting going-without seeming rude- start cleaning up the kitchen. "If you do this, most guests will get the hint," says Laura Pulido, president of The Protocol Institute in Los Angeles. "Next, mention that you can't believe how the time has slipped away." If your guests are still lounging, be direct, with a touch of humor. "Look at your watch and say, 'Am I the only one here who turns into a pumpkin around this time of night?'" suggests Mitchell. "Then begin gathering coats." After all, tough love-and gentle diplomacy-is often the best way to handle family. Photo: Daniel Grill/Getty Images10. Command your kitchen.
It's hard for some moms (and mothers-in-law) to cede their role as ruler of the kitchen. If yours starts horning in on your turf, don't turn it into a confrontation or competition. Try not to overreact if she criticizes your methods, says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, DC. "That will only play into the tension." Instead, head it off by sweetly saying something like, "Thanks for your help, but I'm so used to cooking by myself that it'll take me twice as long if anyone else is here," suggests Mitchell. Then immediately give each matriarch a job to do outside of the kitchen. For example, ask one to set the table while the other leads the grandkids in a centerpiece- or placecard-making activity.Related content at WomansDay.com:
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