Just in time for that Christmas lunch with your weird Uncle Pete... how to handle the people who don't make you feel very festive, from the lovely Rachel. And I couldn't help sharing one of the beautiful videos she and Thu (a.k.a. The Singer and The Songwriter) created for their #12VideosOfChristmas project. Talk about multi-talented!
“Rachel, I love Christmas but there are certain members of my extended family who drive me crazy ever year, without fail! Okay, it’s my brother-in-law. He tells racist jokes at the table. He’s kinda mean to my sister, and he doesn’t control his bratty, ill-mannered kids! Is it better to hold my tongue and seethe? Or is there something I can say that won’t cause a family rift? I can’t spend another year getting so mad! HELP!” - Jess
I feel your pain. I think we all feel your pain. Everyone has that relative who drives them up the wall at family gatherings, which is a tough scenario for anyone to handle. But that doesn’t have to mean a festive case of lockjaw from gritting your teeth: There are a few different directions you can go to make sure you enjoy your holidays.
My first recommendation is speaking to your sister ahead of time with your concerns. Try, ‘I’m excited to see you and the family for the holidays, but I’m wondering if I could speak to you about Dan. Last Christmas he made a couple of off-color jokes and was a bit rude to Mom. I’m wondering if you could ask him to tone it down a bit for Christmas?’ Take care to approach this conversation with kindness – that way she is less likely to go on the defensive.
Second, enlist an ally before you attend Christmas dinner. Does your partner have an easier time talking to your brother-in-law than you do? Ask him or her to handle and deflect the difficult family member, so your interactions with him are diffused or limited. Also, make an escape plan with your ally to go on a walk or take a break if the moment becomes too intense and you feel yourself getting angry.
Third, give yourself permission to speak up in the moment if something is particularly offensive to you. You are allowed to say, ‘Dan, that topic is inappropriate for this dinner, and I’d appreciate it if you’d please drop the subject.’ But pick your battles here. Remember you are just trying to enjoy the holiday, not do the impossible and change him as a person.
And now for those ‘bratty, ill-mannered kids.’ If you can bear it, bring a few age-appropriate toys for you to play with together. Commit to playing and talking with them for 30 minutes. This will give their parents a break and you will gain the kids’ trust. They are perhaps behaving poorly because they really would love some attention and some dedicated playtime.
With any option you choose I would be sure to give your focus to helping the host with any set up and serving. Put your energy towards the family members that you enjoy and do your best to ignore this bad behavior.
Good luck and Happy Holidays!