1. Plan the time you spend with family in such a way that you can take “breaks” from emotional intensity. This can include limiting or structuring the time you spend together, planning for short periods apart (ie, going for a walk), keeping things routine, focusing on tasks related to meals or childcare, going to see a movie, or defining in advance what you will be doing and when. Long periods of unstructured and undefined time can invite agitation and boredom.
2. Consider: “My family member is doing the best they can right now.” Instead of thinking “Seriously? That’s the best they can DO?” Try to see them as human beings that are just being human- but without being condescending. Try a stance of gentle acceptance and softened facial expression. We are all bound to be disappointed in people we care about- and sometimes that’s just plain hard to deal with.
3. Appreciations: Try focusing on one thing about each family member that you like, respect, honor, or value. Try to make it a point to tell this to each family member even if it feels awkward or forced. Sometimes when people hear what they are doing well they are less likely to generate conflict.
4. If you exit, exit gracefully. Don’t add insult to injury, make things worse, or do things that diminish your own self-respect. If you can’t do anything to make it better, don’t rub salt in old wounds. If the “worst case scenario happens” how will you respond in such a way that you feel good about how you handle it? Rehearse ahead of time what you would say.
5. If you are a person who focuses on controlling everything, pick one thing ahead of time that you are not going to try to control. Practice letting go, accepting what is, and acknowledging it openly. Refrain from all critical comments.
6. If loss is a theme this holiday, do something special to honor the person in your life who is missing. Talk about what this person meant to you, how much you cared for him/her, or how you spent time together. Sometimes family members need to be invited to honor their sadness because it is so easy to avoid. If no one is there to honor your own sadness with you, see if you can find a way to honor sadness within yourself.
7. Create new ways of being together as a family. Here are some suggested table topics for the big meal: Talk about a highlight of the week, a favored memory of a family event, a recent accomplishment, something each person a the table did this year to increase their quality of life, what he/she wants want 10 years from now, or what he/she wishes for each family member.