Survival Guide for the Holidays
How to Have the Most Fun Possible with Your
By Keith Varnum,
Does your father act like an attorney, interrogating you as if you were
a defendant on the witness stand? Is your mother-in-law the master of the
subtle put down? Are you the roasted turkey they carved up for dinner?
You love your family—yet dread the holidays because you know that,
following the usual holiday debacle, the main thing you’ll be thankful for
is waving goodbye to Mom and Dad, knowing you have a year to recuperate.
How do you duck the potshots coming at you about your choice of
friends, lack of a career, and the way you dress, spend money or raise the
kids? How do you avoid the traditional land mines of religion, politics
and sex? How can you be honest with your relatives and not dig your own
grave? What kind of group activities can you get the group to do that
won’t lead to World War III? How can play, fun and spontaneity help you
run the family holiday gauntlet? How do you put on the charm—and not the
pounds—at the dinner table?
Why not change those exhausting holiday dynamics by taking some helpful
tips from Relationship Expert Keith Varnum?
Here are some simple strategies that will not only help you to survive
the traditional family holiday visit—but actually enjoy it!
Preparing for the Visit
The Boy Scout’s motto, "Be prepared!" has never been more helpful than
when going to visit the family at the holidays!
Form alliances with brothers, sisters and other relatives who are
sympathetic to your plight. Agree to run interference for each other when
criticism comes flying across the dinner table. Hold mock question and
answer sessions with your allies to practice gracefully fending off the
slings and arrows.
Prepare for Cross Examination
Get your answers ready for the questions you know are coming about
sensitive or touchy subjects. Have a ready response for the inevitable "Do
you have a well-paying job?" "When are you getting married?" and "Are you
Know Who You’re Dealing With
Brief yourself and your date/friend on the idiosyncrasies of your crazy
uncle, your uptight aunt, your paranoid father, your over-protective
mother, your bully cousin and the off-the-wall personal inquiries from the
young kids in your family. Realize that holiday gatherings are a time bomb
waiting to go off. A year’s worth of pent up, unresolved tension and
miscommunication show up at the holiday dinner table. Don’t become
Neutralize the Opposition
The best defense is a good offense. Develop questions to ask that you
can come back with to throw off your detractors. Lead the conversation
into constructive, supportive and "safe" realms by subtly shifting the
focus of the dialogue with a quick response from a "family-friendly"
Be on the lookout for subterranean rivalries between brothers, sisters
and other relatives that might rear their ugly heads during dinner
conversations. With lightness and humor, dance around the landmines of old
grievances and competitiveness.
Defuse Hot Buttons
Before the visit, email, write or call your parents with carefully
worded personal background information that will calm your folks’ fears
and pet peeves about you and your date or friend.
Create an Exit Strategy
Warn your family that your stay might be cut short. Come up with some
good, socially acceptable reasons why you have to leave early. Have
several backup exit plans ready to execute on short notice. Be real about
how long you can handle being with your relatives. It’s better to share
fun and love with your family for a few hours—than boredom and hard
feelings for a few days.
Set Realistic Goals
Shoot for simply "surviving" the visit, rather than trying to get
everyone to like you and approve of your lifestyle. Better to leave doors
open to future communication than to burn bridges with the older
generations. Some new attitudes and social customs take the folks a few
years of repeated exposure to become comfortable with. Many parents suffer
from Chronic Cultural Shock Syndrome.
Surviving the Visit
"Be of good cheer, the end is near!" You only have to dodge the bullets
of family expectations once a year—and you don’t have to stay any longer
than you can keep on top of the ruckus. Be light-hearted, playful and
flexible—and enjoy the family circus as much as you can!
Creative Question Answering
You don’t have to answer the question that is being asked! Subtly shift
your answer to their question into a response concerning a related, but
different question—one that you’re willing to answer. For tips on how to
answer the question you prefer, listen carefully to interviews with
politicians and celebrities.
Take the Fifth
If you don’t feel capable of safely answering a question, tell them
you’re not clear enough on the situation to give them a response right
now. If they don’t let you off the hook, develop a bladder emergency or
"accidentally" spill your drink on yourself. Watch cocktail party scenes
in old movies for skillful hints on how to escape any interrogation in a
socially acceptable way.
Turn the Question Around
When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, simply ask
them the same—or similar—question back. Or respond with a totally
different question—especially about a subject that you know excites them.
React in any way that will throw them off the track. To pull off this
tactic, you have to use subtle skill. Add a dash of playfulness or humor
and you’ll get away with it.
Take the Japanese Diplomatic Approach
If you can’t wholeheartedly agree with what someone is saying, you can
respond in the spirit of the famous Japanese phrase, "Ah-So." This
diplomatic response translates literally into: "So it would appear."
Without compromising your integrity, you can respond to almost any
relative’s narrow-minded statement with: "I can see how you can see it
that way" or "I understand how you feel."
Get Your Stories Straight
Make sure you and your date/friend are giving everyone the same
information about the same topics. Some relatives have nothing better to
do than compare notes on what’s been said.
"This is my story, and I’m sticking to it." Make sure all the facts fit
what your family knows about the rest of your life. The "consistency
police" are usually on full alert at family gatherings.
Honesty is the Safest Policy
Eventually, inaccuracies and cover-ups tend to surface over time, so
being truthful—to the degree that you can—will serve you in the long run.
Study the pronouncements of politicians to learn how to express the truth
in the most vague—and least risky or offensive—way.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Certain words act as trigger mechanisms activating touchy egos, raw
nerves, old wounds and painful memories. Use neutral, generic words with
hypersensitive relatives. Avoid overly specific or graphic religious,
political, racial and sexual references. With some relatives, the
generation gap can be as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.
Put Yourself in Your Parents’ Shoes
In the privacy of your own mind, see if you can relate to what your
parents’ perspective might be about a given subject and adjust your
response to allow the possibility of their point of view—however rigid,
shallow or intolerant it might seem to you.
Pick an Agreement
Find something that you can authentically appreciate about every member
of the family, and, if possible, compliment them on that aspect of their
Take Mental Health Breaks
Take strategic time outs when you feel you’re reaching your limit of
being able to cope with family judgement and scrutiny. Go to the bathroom
and splash water on your face. Go outside. Get a breath of fresh air on
the porch or patio. Take a short walk and let the singing birds remind you
that someone’s having a good time today!
Volunteer to Get Lost
Volunteer for errands and duties that will get you out of the house and
out of the line of fire. Disappear into the kitchen to wash the dishes.
Empty the garbage. Go out to pick up something at the store. Give someone
a ride. These chores buy you brownie points and at the same time give you
the freedom and space to blow off steam from the pressure cooker of family
get-togethers. Use the time to re-group and recharge your batteries.
Play Social Director
Suggest specific activities that allow everyone to happily
interact—however superficial or contrived it might have to be. Group
games, home videos, family album, tree decorating. Remember, the goal is a
good time for all, not the spiritual enlightenment of your relatives!
Tap the Power of Humor
Wherever you see an opening, use humor, play, laughter and fun to keep
the festivities light and flowing. The holidays are, after all, holy
days—time to be spent celebrating the joy of togetherness and the love
that connects you with your family and friends.GOOD LUCK!
From the wisdom of native tribal cultures and ancient spiritual
traditions, Keith Varnum shares his distillation of the underlying
principles of all healing and transformation. After curing himself of
blindness, he has applied his approach to human dynamics in a practical
way as a wilderness vision quest guide, life strategy coach, international
seminar leader, author, acupuncturist, filmmaker, gardener, radio talk
show host, owner-chef of two gourmet natural foods restaurants and vice
president of the country’s largest natural food company. Sign up for his
free Prosperity Ezine at
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