It’s true what they say that you can’t pick your relatives. People from the same family can be very different, so different in fact that at times you can wonder if you really do share a genetic heritage. And these differences include each individual’s perceptions about themselves and their role in the family system. This leads to some interesting family dynamics, which tend to play out, particularly at a family gathering. No wonder people can feel anxious or worry about what will happen or how people will behave during a get together. Many people love their families but also dread that big family event. Here are 5 tips for sailing through a family gathering.

  1. Be a diplomat

Try not to get involved with other people’s grievances and petty complaints about other family members. Families will always have their issues and not everyone will be happy with everyone else all the time. You can hear people out but don’t feel like you need to join in on any offensive or negative conversation. Try to look at all sides of disagreements and look to create peaceful dialogue with family members.

  1. Don’t take the bait

Do you have an uncle who likes to tell an embarrassing story about you just to see how you will respond? Or an aunt who tries to stir up conflict with prickly remarks? Getting flustered will only give your energy away. And people who try to get a response out of you with negativity get bolder when you play along and get truly upset. Ignoring the comment and/or removing your self from their company will give you more power than getting upset and engaging with them. You only need to do this once or twice for people to get the message that you are not going to take the bait! You can also draw a boundary with that person (see below) if you cannot walk away or if they keep poking you.

3.  Enjoy your time with complementary relatives

Seek out and spend time with the family members you have the most in common with. You may live in different places or have different jobs and experiences but there are always relatives that you have more in common with than others. These are people you can speak to and share with, enjoying a degree of mutual respect and having a laugh or two! Kick back and enjoy their company.

  1. Draw boundaries with button pushers.

If someone is being obviously and intentionally unkind (even if it’s done with a smile) tell that person directly that you don’t agree with or appreciate their point of view. For example if someone keeps “joking” about how easy stay at home mom’s have it and you are a stay at home mom you can say, “Hey, I don’t agree at all. I am a stay at home mom and I am always working, without breaks or vacation.” If they keep on their point you can just repeat, “I don’t agree,” without engaging in a heated conversation. Drawing boundaries is not about debating someone. It’s about standing up for yourself and giving voice to your needs and opinions.

  1. Remember that time flies.

As you get older you realize that time does go by quickly and people don’t live forever. These relatives have been around your whole life and they will be there in the future. They are not perfect and that is OK. They are still part of your life and you can learn a lot about yourself from them. In many ways they push you to reflect on your life as no other group of people ever will. Don’t put off family events or decline all the invitations that come your way. You many never have a chance to see your quirky cousin, scholarly uncle or beloved older relative again.

Do you have a funny family story to tell? Did you have an interesting experience at a recent family gathering? Share it in the comments below!

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  1. Richard J Ross, LMFT

    Enjoyed this article particularly where I practice on Nantucket in the summer time. There are many ‘family gatherings’ that are very stressful for family members. I am going to copy this if its OK and hand it out to my clients. thank you!

  2. Laurie Marsden

    Hi Richard.
    Yes, feel free to pass this article on to your clients. Summertime is a busy period for family get togethers. It’s helpful to have a grounded perspective and some good tips to make the most out of the occasions. Thanks for sharing!


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