Survival Guide for the Holidays

By: Keith Varnum

How to Have the Most Fun Possible with Your Family!

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


The Boy Scout's motto, "Be prepared!" has never been more
helpful than when going to visit the family at the holidays!

Enlist Allies

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 eating enough?"

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 collateral

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" perspective.

Recognize Rivalries

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

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.


"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

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

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.

Be Consistent

"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

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

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 lives.

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 allArticle Submission, holy days-time to be spent celebrating the joy of
togetherness and the love that connects you with your family and


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