For many of us, the holiday season means more time spent with family (even if your gathering is just over Zoom). Hopefully this is something to look forward to, but a lot of times family gatherings can lead to some serious discord, and it might be wise to set boundaries with your family. After all, this year has been hard enough without adding family drama into the mix.
Sometimes it just seems unavoidable, but it really shouldn’t be! We think it’s possible to keep the peace over your holiday meals so your family time is as fun as possible. You’ll need to set those boundaries, but it’ll be worth it. Here are our favorite ways to keep the peace and set healthy boundaries with family to keep the holidays enjoyable for everyone!
Set expectations with family in advance.
This might be an awkward conversation to have, but trust me, it’ll be so worth it. If you’re really worried about conflict during the holidays, take the time to talk to your fam in advance about expectations and boundaries. You may get pushback, but stand firm — don’t be ashamed of bringing this up!
A good way to approach this is by saying that you don’t necessarily want to avoid controversial topics altogether, you just want to avoid them during holiday gatherings. Explain that you’re trying to make sure everyone enjoys themselves and has a good time with one another, and that agreeing to keep certain topics off-limits in advance is a great way to do this. Hopefully everyone understands!
Plan activities to avoid idle time.
Sometimes controversial topics come up in downtime for whatever reason — maybe it’s just what someone is thinking about and they’re trying to come up with something to talk about, or maybe someone is just plain looking for trouble. The best way to make sure politics don’t become the idle time conversation topic is by avoiding idle time altogether!
My family loves games, and we always have a list of games we want to play while we’re together. We also enjoy watching movies and cooking together. All of these planned activities keep us so busy, there’s honestly no room for anything controversial to come up!
Come prepared with a list of conversation topics.
There’s one place the last tip won’t work: the dinner table. Dinner is all about food and conversation, and this is where things tend to go south. Stop controversial topics from coming up by keeping the conversation rolling.
It’s helpful to literally come up with a list of conversation topics. An awesome tip to keep in mind (for holidays and just in general) is that people tend to love talking about themselves. Did Aunt Janet get a new dog in quarantine? Ask her about it. Did a cousin graduate? Make them tell you literally everything. Becky got divorced this year? Girl probably needs to vent a bit — probably not the happiest discussion point, but it’ll at least keep things from getting heated (unless she got divorced because of political views. Maybe stay away from that one).
Literally set boundaries with family at the dinner table.
If you’re hosting a holiday dinner, you can seriously use that to your advantage by literally setting boundaries with family and making a seating chart. It doesn’t have to be obvious why you’re doing this — just make cute little place cards labeled with your guests’ names and they probably won’t even question it.
Be strategic in your seating. Have a couple family troublemakers? Don’t seat them in the middle of the table — seat them closer to the end, near other people who are of the same opinions and aren’t likely to cause disagreement. Seat super polarized family members away from each other. Sprinkle peacekeepers throughout to keep discussion civil. This way, even if controversial topics do arise, they’re less likely to cause too much trouble.
Compliments and positivity are your friends.
When in doubt, be overly nice. Tell your grumpy uncle how much you like his tie. Your aunt’s hair probably looks amazing today (or at least you should tell her it does). The sky is beautiful. Wow, this food is amazing.
Obviously don’t sugarcoat it so much that your relatives see a ruse. But a little extra positivity can go a long way. It’s the holidays, so chances are, people want to be in a good mood — do what you can to push them in that direction!
Avoid the alcohol.
Yeah, I know, a lot of us use holidays as an excuse to drink. Consider laying off the booze this year — we all know what lowered inhibitions and impaired judgement can do to people.
This doesn’t mean your holiday drink menu has to be boring! Stock the fridge with your favorite flavored seltzer water, make some punch, or set up a hot chocolate bar. Or you could even have some alcohol available, but less than you normally would. Maybe keep it to a couple bottles of wine, or a glass per person. You know your family best, so do whatever will work for you guys!
If all else fails and conversation starts getting heated, try to de-escalate it. Set boundaries with your family by reminding them that you’re here to have a good time and that the conversation will likely only end badly. Keep your tone of voice even, don’t get personal, avoid any foul language and say something simple and direct, like “I can see you’re upset, let’s table this discussion until you’re calmer,” or “I think we should end the conversation here before anyone crosses someone’s personal boundaries, let’s change the subject,” or “This seems to be a hot button issue, what else can we talk about?”
Sometimes even that doesn’t work. If worst comes to worst, sometimes you may just have to walk away. Obviously this isn’t ideal, but sometimes it’s better to let others work things out themselves. If Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Joey just won’t let up, leave them alone in their verbal battle, and take everyone else to another room (or outside) until things blow over.
What are your holiday plans, and do they involve gathering with family? What are some of your favorite ways to set boundaries with family during the holidays? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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