With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at ways for the black sheep of the family to survive a Christmas family gathering. I’ve also included a few tips on how to survive Christmas in general, regardless of whether you are the black sheep or not!
Here goes. Get your jingle bells on…
Be prepared for the ‘what have you been doing’ question
Christmas can mean catching up with family members that you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while. It’s probably quite normal for them to ask what you have been doing.
I had this happen a while back with some relatives I hadn’t seen for a while. Granted it wasn’t Christmas but the questioning process was still the same. They asked me what I had been doing and I mentioned my recent trip to New York. Their response was an extremely negative ‘why the hell would you want to go there?” Hummm.
Not the response I was expecting considering New York City is on many travelers must do list. I found myself trying to explain and justify why I loved the city so much. Nothing I said changed the baffled, sometimes disgusted expressions on their faces. They weren’t into big cities, bars, restaurants, shows or museums. For that matter they weren’t that keen on travel outside of Australia or the state either.
It didn’t take long to realize that my travel stories were not going to be something I could share with them. They didn’t leave it alone either, over the course of the night they repeatedly bought up the New York topic and asked why I found it so appealing.
Answering the what have you been doing question can be tricky but there are a couple of things you can do. First up you can just simply tell the story of what you have been doing and it’s tough luck if they don’t like it.
An option that might help foster more conversation is to tell them your story but add some topics or triggers that you think will interest them. Another option is to briefly answer the question but then ask them about themselves. People love to talk about themselves so for instance, if you are telling them your travel story, follow it up by asking if they have been travelling lately.
It helps to do a little prep work for this one. Think about how you can talk about what you have been doing.
Be prepared for not being asked ‘what have you been doing’
It’s hard to say which one of these can be worse. People asking what you have been doing knowing that you have little in common or them not asking at all because they just aren’t interested.
Come to think of it, I just answered my own question there, not asking because they aren’t interested is probably worse.
I know it can be hard but be prepared that they might not ask how you are. This isn’t a reflection on you so don’t take it personally, some people are so wrapped up in their own little worlds that they just don’t notice other people or they only notice people with similar lifestyles/interests to them.
You have your life, you are happy (more on that below) – be strong and don’t let it bother you.
Be prepared that they might only ask about one topic
Here’s an example which I am sure a lot of people can relate to. If you are single and your parents are hell-bent on you getting married they might have only one question on their minds.
Are you seeing anyone?
The question might be worded differently but it will generally mean the same thing. Depending on your answer, they might ask a ton of embarrassing and/or personal questions about your love life (or lack thereof) in front of a whole cast of family members.
The topic might not be about your love life. If could be about your career or becoming a parent or a variety of other things.
If you know they are going to ask you a particular question have some answers prepared. Answer their questions and be prepared to move onto another topic. Divert, divert, divert people! Again get people talking about themselves.
Be prepared to talk about things that aren’t important to you
If you don’t have a lot in common with your family, you can assume that you might have to talk about stuff that isn’t important to you. In the whole scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.
If you are stuck for subjects to talk about – talk about Christmas itself. The tree, food, lights, presents and everything else Christmas related. Perhaps you can talk about fun stuff that happened at Christmas gatherings over the years.
If you are highly introverted and you hate small talk but are surrounded by family who only ever speak small talk, you might struggle. Take small breaks from the conversation. Help out in the kitchen or play with the children (come to think of it, this option can be great fun). You get to check out all the Christmas toys and goodies!
Make yourself useful and keep busy if the small talk is driving you a bit nuts!
Be prepared for talk about family members
I’ve noticed this bizarre thing when it comes to families. This can happen at any time, but Christmas is the most likely.
I’ve seen this done by parents mostly, though giving it more thought I realize that siblings and other family members are guilty of it as well. So what am I talking about exactly?
I’m talking about the way people talk about the family members who didn’t show up. It usually goes one of two ways.
The family member who didn’t show up is the most wonderful family member of all. I know this sounds weird but I have seen this happen. People make a big effort to turn up at Christmas (often travelling long distances to get there) and all the parents do is talk about the son/daughter who didn’t turn up, telling everyone how wonderful they are and singing their praises while completely neglecting the people sitting right in front of them.
Of course the other way and probably the more common is bagging the family member who didn’t turn up. This generally makes everyone uncomfortable for a number of reasons. You could be really close to the person being targeted and hate to hear someone tearing them down. It’s also a harsh reminder that the minute you don’t show up you will be the one in the firing line!
Try to not get involved in this sort of behavior. If parents or relatives start bagging someone, do not join in.
It’s bullying. Come to think of it, bullying can be rife in families. If you don’t want your kids to turn into bullies it might help not being one yourself and showing them how it’s done!
Instead try to change the topic onto something more positive. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you are related to people you are allowed to be mean to them! You are not.
Don’t mention off-limits family members
As I mentioned in an earlier post Christmas after a divorce in the family can sometimes be difficult. Some families get on fabulously after a divorce and I totally applaud them. Even though it might not always be easy, they do the right thing by their families (particularly if there are young children involved).
Unfortunately some families don’t do the right thing.
If you know talking about a family member is off-limits do not bring it up at Christmas. If they bring it up or they start on a rant about the person, you need to get them off the topic. Sometimes a quick topic change about something that they are interested in will do the trick. Other times it won’t.
There will be times when you have to tell people politely but firmly (no yelling that doesn’t help anyone and just makes it all worse) that you don’t want to talk about the person involved. Heads up, if the divorce or separation was recent or there is still a lot of pain involved you might have to say this more than once. No one particularly likes repeating themselves, so make sure that if you have to repeat this process a few times that you don’t get aggressive or angry about it. Stick with polite and firm.
Don’t feel intimated by happy families
There is a lot of marketing around Christmas and a lot of it involves happy families getting together to celebrate.
The marketing usually starts in November (or even earlier) so by the time Christmas comes around we have been inundated with images of people playing happy families. It can make us feel bad if our reality doesn’t match up.
It’s not jut the happy families that can intimate us – it’s the size of the families.
I have noticed this when people talk about what they are doing on Christmas Day. I’ve noticed people tend to get more excited about having a large Christmas gathering. People get more excited if there are 25 people than 5. I understand there are a lot of reasons for this way of thinking but the problem arises if you don’t have a big family to begin with. There might be no way you could get 10 people together – let alone 25.
Don’t feel bad if you have a small family. Enjoy the family you do have.
Enjoy the company of your family
Sometimes the best part of Christmas is that we find out cool/interesting things about our family members that we didn’t know. That is the whole point really – don’t assume that you know people just because they act a certain way or do certain things. There is often a lot more to people than we realize.
If we want to stop being labelled and judged – it definitely helps if we don’t label other people either!
I must admit I have gotten into a bit of a funk about Christmas. As I mentioned in my earlier post about my parents getting divorced I hated Christmas for a long time. A very long time.
I only realized recently that I had gotten myself into a habit of hating Christmas. I dreaded it every year!
Not exactly the best approach for having a great Christmas!
If you go in hating something from the get go, chances are you aren’t going to have the best time. Re-frame the way you feel about Christmas and you are much likely to have an enjoyable time. My Mum and I are going to the local RSL club for Christmas this year and I am really looking forward to it (we’ve never had Christmas at an outside venue before so it will be something new).
This one is all about you. If you want to rock up to your family Christmas do and feel good – be happy about yourself and your life!
Accept that people don’t need to accept you – what you need to do is accept yourself.
The truth of the matter is when families can upset us so easily (particularly if it’s people we don’t see very often and aren’t close to) there might be something in our lives bugging us that we want to work on or improve. Sometimes the seed for self-improvement is already planted – family just go digging around and cause it to flare up.
With this in mind, the end of the year is an excellent time to do some reflection on where you want to improve and what you want to achieve next year. If you have a plan of action to achieve your goals, those seeds of frustration are much less likely to bother you because you are on course to make positive advancements in your life.
The easiest way for the black sheep of the family to be happy over Christmas – be happy with your life and be proud of your choices. You got this!
I’ve written two other posts about being the black sheep of the family. Check them both out below.
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