Every family has its share of difficult members. Theyre the folks with the shortest fuses or most fragile egos. Theyre easily disrupted. Theyre seldom pleased.
During the rest of the year, these challenging kinfolk are easier to manage. When theres less stress or fewer expectations, their highstakes needs are more likely to be met. Cranky Grandmas criticisms about the children or the food can be dismissed when dining at Tahoe Joes. But bring her to the house, where youll be opening presents or playing games, and her complaints begin to rankle.
There are more ways for family members to be difficult than there are lights on the tree. Some have substance-abuse problems. They may arrive high or get hammered throughout the day. Relatives are caught in a bind when Aunty pours herself a glass of Schnapps even though shes fresh out of rehab.
Others bring up inappropriate topics. A brother-in-law insists on talking politics, even though the discussion always turns hostile and people leave the table in tears.
A disgruntled sister-in-law feels no one likes her and is pouty within minutes of arrival. An uncle professes to hate the holidays and spends the afternoon sniping at everyone he sees.
Of course, the amount of difficulty is relative. Each of has idiosyncrasies. But the truly difficult run the risk of ruining the entire day. They sap energy wed like to use interacting with others. Their presence and behavior contaminate the groups mood. Everyones on edge. Its nearly impossible to relax.
Still, theyre family, and we dont want to exclude them. We love each of our children, parents and siblings, even though some are terribly vexing to be around. We also have to embrace all of their partners, viewpoints and lifestyles. When an in-law joins the fold, the new person becomes part of our lives. Period.
Some clans have it easy. They have one or two difficult members in their midst. In other households its a different story . The police have been called several times to our house, one man casually mentioned. Thats what happens when were all together.
HOLIDAYS WITH DIFFICULT KIN DONT HAVE TO BE A DRAG
Identify which specific members need extra support or monitoring. Naming the players and labeling their needs means youre already ahead of the game.
Let go of judgments. Its easy to harbor judgments: If hed just control himself he wouldnt be so difficult. But we are all doing the best we can. And foisting it back on the member never gets the problem solved. Youre having this person for the holidays. The issue belongs to you.
Devise a plan. Ask yourself, What would help this person feel welcome and at ease? Grandpa may need someone to spend time with him one-on-one. Hostile teenager does best when someone compliments her when she walks in the room.
Enlist others help. Other members who arent as difficult can be your assistants. Ask your mother-inlaw to kindly visit with your frail, elderly great-aunt.
Plan a group activity. Play a board game. Set up a puzzle. Try out one of the newest gifts. Create an inclusive ambience of fun and frivolity.
Allow individual members their physical and emotional space. Difficult members may need time to themselves. Thats fine. Dont force them to fit in.
Keep the event short. Theres no need to drag festivities out. Set a pre-determined end point. Difficult members will relish the chance to escape. More relaxed folks may choose to hang longer.
Free yourself of expectations. Even all your bestlaid plans wont change the people in your clan. Do what you can with who you have. You wont have to this again for 12 months.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewis griffith.com .