To paraphrase Ram Dass, a former clinical psychologist I greatly admire:
If you think you’re a reasonable, well-balanced person, try spending a week with your family.
To maximize family bonding this holiday season, and to minimize acts of family warfare, keep the following tips in mind when next you sit down between Crazy Uncle Hank and Racist Rant Grammy.
1. It’s been said a million times before, but let me say it again: Don’t talk religion or politics at family gatherings. Not unless you’re a preacher or a politician—and probably not even then.
2. Don’t play the victim. If you don’t want to go to a family gathering, don’t go. Period. Going because you feel obligated, then resenting your family for “making” you go, does no one any favors.
3. Assuming you are an adult, or aspire to be one in the near future, lend a hand with the cooking, the cleanup, something. Don’t wait for someone to give you a “job.” Be proactive and make yourself useful.
4. Don’t air past family grievances. This isn’t the time. Wait until mid-January. If you still feel like resolving some past issue at that time, then call the person directly and talk it out.
5. When in doubt, leave early rather than stay late.
6. Listen more, talk less. Ask thoughtful questions about your family members’ lives without expecting them to necessarily reciprocate.
7. No one wants to hear you complain. This includes your family. Try talking about what’s going right in your life rather than what’s going wrong.
8. Don’t be passive aggressive. Although some family “teasing” is well-meaning, it can also be camouflage for more hurtful, underlying hostility.
9. Don’t gossip about other family members. This will always, always come back to bite you in the sleigh bells.
10. Set reasonable expectations. The best predictor for this holiday season with your family is past holiday seasons with your family. If you don’t like the way things have gone in the past, consider making other plans.