Surviving Family Gatherings

“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

This German proverb is often misused to infer that all familial relationships are superior to friendships because they involve blood connections. The true meaning of the saying can be interpreted the exact opposite way–it implies that bonds willingly formed (covenants) are stronger than the obligation of family. I’m sure anyone who has a family they don’t always see eye to eye with can relate–you don’t really have a choice about who you’re related to, but you can chose your friends, which, in my opinion, makes those bonds even stronger.

Even if you’re on amiable terms with your relatives, things can get tense when you’re all gathered in one place, especially for the holidays. Tempers rise and opinions, even with the best of intentions, can clash and hurt feelings. There are a few actions you take beyond being basically tactful, though, to keep the peace at awkward social events.

Avoid Politics

For a politically inclined woman such as myself, this can be very difficult. I’m always itching to talk about human rights issues and campaign trails, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people can’t discuss these matters impartially or calmly. When you put a political opinion out there, you run the risk of someone disagreeing, and that’s how arguments start. I’d debate all day about topics I’m passionate about, but when tempters flare in close quarters, it only ends in disaster. So when your hillbilly uncle starts to go on about building walls and restricting women’s’ rights, try to turn the other cheek. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Stick To Relatable Content

To ensure a smooth social interaction, talk about something everyone unanimously agrees on, like someone’s approaching graduation or how good Adele’s new album is. It won’t make for the most interesting conversations, but sometimes flying under the radar and playing it safe is the fastest way to freedom. Take generation gaps into consideration as well–for example, when I spoke to my grandfather about this blog at Christmas, I had to first explain to him what a blog even was. It was better than sitting through an explanation of the stock market or arguing about the election, though, and that’s what matters.

Don’t Drink Too Much

It can be tempting as anything to self medicate with drinks, especially when you have some dirtbag relative on your tail, but in the long run it’s not a good idea. Pouring alcohol on an already questionable social situation is like pouring gasoline on a fire. If you convince yourself you can’t handle the gathering sober, you’ll only feel more powerless, which will make you lash out and cause conflict where it doesn’t need to happen. You’ll be hungover the next day, too, and everyone knows that’s not worth it. By all means, have a glass of wine, but don’t use it as a crutch.

Pretend That You’re Meeting People For The First Time

When you have years of history (and sometimes resentment) behind someone, it’s easy to feel a certain way towards them before you even talk. If you can try to find a new start, even temporarily, it’ll make it easier to be patient with others.