How to handle family at the holidays when yours is not exactly the Brady Bunch.
I am a child of divorce, shared holidays, and an every other weekend childhood. Sure, between the yelling and fighting, I have warm memories of fun family times, ice skating, baking bread, and holidays at the farm. There are visions just like Rockwell’s 1943 “Freedom from Want.” Unfortunately, four of six of my kids are children of divorce, shared holidays and an every other weekend childhood. Since my family isn’t exactly the most smoothly-blended family, I’m trying to recreate the best of possible experiences in a less-than-perfect reality. As I have learned while reinventing myself over the past decade, experiences are better than any material gift. It’s up to the adults to make the holidays memorable, in a good way, for the kids.
Here is my best advice on how to ignore (or as my mom says, do not engage) the unwanted comments and familial advice that is bound to come out of someone’s mouth (it was even worse every time I was pregnant).
Accept the invitation, maybe. If invited to the home of a relative, remember you will not be trapped there, unless your car’s blocked in. If need be, you can pack up and head home. If past experience has proven (maybe more than once) that the event will end with more drama than you want, decline the invite.
Host the holiday. Whether it’s the whole kit and kaboodle holiday spread or just a brunch, buffet or after-dinner dessert party, the host is in charge. You can control whether there is alcohol at your party, plan basic kids’ activities and beginning and end times for your event. Worst case scenario, you can ask an offensive or disruptive person to leave, or call the cops.
Do not engage. This is a great opportunity to be a role model for the kids and teach them real-life social skills, and maybe learn a lesson about talking in front of the kids. There is bound to be someone in your family (or like mine, many) who rubs you the wrong way. Your kids probably know it (mine do-sorry). Now is not the time to tell your cousin, again, not to swim in your pond in in his sister’s red bikini. It might be good to prep the kids not to mention it either, or not. This could backfire, so threats of bodily harm or promises of ice cream when you get home might be in order.
If engaged, redirect and/or distract. This is the hardest one and works equally well with children and adults. My husband’s grandmother approaches me (in the middle of the room – no escape) and says, “Why on earth would you get pregnant again?” Mind you, I’m six months pregnant with my sixth kid. She had six kids, what’s the big deal? So I took my mother’s advice, and the high road, ignored the question and asked, “Did you make this pie? I have GOT to get the recipe for this,” walking away to the dessert table. I’d rather be considered a little rude (blame it on hormones) than try to explain why I’m pregnant.
Bite thou tongue, unless you must intervene. Someone is going to bring up the recent election and upcoming political events, or maybe conversation about uncle you-know-who bailing cousin not-her-first-rodeo out of jail, again. Remember the kids. Don’t add to the drama. Intervene only if someone is being bullied or the cursing gets too out of control in front the of the little ones.
Like it or not, you are a part of at least two families (unless you were hatched). It is important for the kids to know those people, but that does not mean you have to entirely dedicate your holiday time to be with them. You might be new to one of those families (congratulations and good luck) or you might be a veteran survivor of decades of family events. The kids deserve the warm, sometimes raucous and loving experience of a traditional American holiday, so give it to them. If your family is more like the Simpsons or the Sopranos, maybe you should just hunker down and stay home. Otherwise, let the kids play with their cousins and laugh at the adults getting all heated over a game of croquet.