Navigate The Holidays With Difficult Family Without Losing Your Sh*t

I don’t know about you, but some branches of my family tree are pretty f-ed up. I’m not referring to any of my relatives who may read this, mind you; I’m talking about the other ones.


Once or twice a year, we all convene in one place to celebrate a holiday and pretend that we like each other. There are so many resentments in the air, so much that is said-without-being-said, so much history and hurt, just like most families — but there’s also a lot of love. Love is basically the only thing holding us together. Aside from the guilt and shame, of course.

The complex thing about family is that I have zero control over who marries into or divorces out of our clan, or how they choose to raise the children who are now my own children’s cousins. I can’t stop another adult from dredging up the sordid drama of 2003 or outing Uncle Jeb in front of the azalea bushes when we’re supposed to be taking a nice family photo.

This is why there’s always at least one person who consistently shows up to family functions high as a kite: because forced family time is literally the worst.

So, how are we going to summon the inner strength and emotional fortitude to make it through a holiday event surrounded by people who make our skin crawl? That’s where I come in. Here are 10 practical tips to get you through the day without completely losing your sh*t.

Crowd control

You don’t have to invite the entire family over on Christmas Eve, even though it’s always been done that way. Maybe you can announce that this year, you’re going to do things a little bit differently — and as long as you’re making this announcement with love, no one will push back too hard. Especially if you reply with, “Oh, were you offering to host?” Chances are, that will shut them up quick.

No booze

Keep everyone sober and they just might act like respectable members of society.

Plaster every surface with holiday cheer!

Everywhere I look in my house, there’s something tacky that makes me smile: old artwork from years past, courtesy of my kids, handmade ornaments, garbage from the dollar store that I let the kids strew all over the house (those window cling-on decorations that look like they’re made of gelatin are a fave of ours), ribbon that our cats have shredded, and multiple artificial trees. I don’t know if it really helps me handle my dysfunction, but it sure makes me feel better.

Force feed them

 Cranky and cantankerous family members are a lot like small children; they need a lot of snacks and a lot of naps. I suggest feeding them as often and as much as possible. Bring over a plate of pie and see what happens. If nothing else, it’ll plug up their mouth so they’ll stop talking so d*mn much.

Encourage outside time

 Run your family like puppies. Encourage football in the yard, a foot race, or even golf. Play basketball and divide the teams into equally obnoxious groups, and let them get their aggression out on the court rather than in front of Great Aunt Mary. This year, I signed us all up for a one-mile fun run on Thanksgiving morning. (Everyone was pissed.)

Hide prescription medications

 Trust me on this.

Double up on Xanax (or meditation, or therapy appointments) in preparation

Whatever helps you to feel your best, double up on it as we head into the holiday season. You’re going to need all the zen. Fib and tell them you have a doctor’s appointment, then get your ass to the nail salon. IT’S FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.

Reward yourself — and your spouse/kids

Keeping the family in line can be pretty exhausting. Your spouse and kids have been very gracious. They’ve helped you make pie crust, wiped the snotty noses of their small cousins, allowed strangers to hug them hello, and endured countless hours of you b*tching at them to clean up after the dog. It would be wrong not to acknowledge their suffering.

Feign busyness

 When I’ve had about all I can handle of whatever family member happens to be working my last nerve, I find a job to do. My mother can be yelling at me to stop doing the dishes, but will I stop? HECK NO. If I need to get out of the house, I drum up an errand. “Oh damn, we’re out of paper towels! I’ll be right back!”


Make up an excuse for her to drop by so she can observe your family, then make mental notes to talk about later. I didn’t say it’s the right thing to do, I said it will keep you from losing your sh*t. Plus, it’s free entertainment.

Godspeed, my friends.


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