Ahhh, the holidays. A time for family members to gather together and celebrate their unconditional love and support for one another; a time for reflecting upon the joys of — oh, who the hell am I kidding? It’s a time when family dysfunction rears its ugly head. A time when folks who normally don’t drink do, and those who do, drink too much. Cops are called, holding tanks fill to capacity, and faster than you can say “emotional suicide,” an accusation of “How could you forget the mashed potatoes?” turns into “How could you sleep with my sister?”

What is it about the holidays that brings out the worst in people? Stress? Mounting credit card bills? Food-induced hostility? Can’t we all just get along? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

Here are some suggestions for HOW TO AVOID FAMILY FIGHTS:

1. Become a Stepford listener: When your ignorant Uncle Frank starts spouting off about how the demise of society can be pinpointed to the exact moment women began burning their bras, and how, if we want the divorce rate to go down all we need to do is get the “little woman” out of the boardroom and back into the kitchen, put on your best blank Stepford expression and nod.

Inside you may be thinking, “Ugh, I can never get back these wasted minutes of listening to this dumbass,” but outwardly you appear as cool as gelato. Uncle Frank thinks you’re the embodiment of the perfect female, because “women should be seen and not heard,” and you’ve succeeded in avoiding a family fight.

2. Jackrabbit visits: The longer you are in proximity to toxic relatives, the more likely you will revert back to a twelve-year-old. Keep the visits lightening short. If you’re attached, blame the late arrival or early departure on your SO. “I lost at rock-paper-scissors, so we have to do dinner at her folk’s house.”

If by some stroke of hell, you must spend days with the offending party, for dyslexic Dog’s sake, stay at a hotel. Broke? Sleep in a tent in the backyard and tell them you’re training for a wilderness survival expedition.

3. Channel Tony Robbins: Nobody likes a braggart. You know, the one who can’t seem to say enough great things about herself and her life; where nothing ever seems to go wrong for her and when it does, it’s never her fault. I used to get off on specifically pointing out the braggart’s failures or weaknesses, but now I give as much as I get. I pretend I’ve just taken a hit of speed and I become everything I hate in an optimist: My voice raises two notches and I become effusive. “That is so amazing! Really?! If anyone deserves it, it’s you. Faaabulous! You go, girl!”

Remember, the person who brags the most usually has the lowest self-esteem. Revel in your ability to have your feet firmly planted in stone-cold sober reality, and delight in knowing that others don’t want to slap that smug egotism right outta you.

4. Remember, it’s all grist for the mill: There’s a saying among writers, “Careful or you’ll wind up in my novel.” What this means is writers get their revenge through their words. You screw me over, and I will get you back as the entire world reads about it. Thinly disguised, of course. Take a Gorillas in the Mist approach and simply observe.

My father, for example, would always become enraged over the slightest provocation. Maybe the dog looked at him wrong, or his wife over-salted the gravy, or his daughter gained forty pounds…Anyway, first his nostrils would flare like a bull about to charge. Then, his eyes would begin to bulge from their sockets like a blowfish, and his chest heaved while screaming loud enough for the next town to hear. He was like an egg left too long to cook in a microwave. KAPOW! Bits of exploded egg everywhere. If I ever need to do a character study for Explosive Personality Disorder, I won’t have to look far.

5. Plan a Houdini: When all else fails, and your newfound Zen attitude has taken a nosedive, the Lamaze breathing isn’t working, and you know you’re about to take a trip down Lose It Lane, make a quick escape. You can use the same strategy you would to get out of a horrendous first date. Have a friend call and feign an emergency. Get the hell out of there and go get drunk.

Or, if you can’t come up with a reasonable emergency, just say you have the runs and leave it at that. Get the hell out of there and go get drunk.

Here’s one last tip to attempt to put the fun back in dysfunctional: I read about it in an article written by O columnist, Martha Beck. It’s called “Dysfunctional Family Bingo.” Before the holidays, get together with friends and pass out blank bingo cards. Have each person fill out each bingo square with dysfunctional phrases or actions that are likely to occur at their family get-together.

For example: If your well-meaning mother always makes comments like, “Have you ever considered Weight Watchers,” as you’re in the middle of scarfing down your pecan pie topped with whipped cream, then you’d write “Comment about weight” inside one of the boxes. If your alcoholic brother-in-law always passes out by six, write “Bro-law passes out.”

Each time someone says or does something at the family gathering that has been written in a box, check it off. The first one to get Bingo needs to call everyone and tell them; they should win a free lunch, or a cannoli, or a session to the therapist of their choice. Remember, the only losers are your dysfunctional family members.

Does anyone have any disastrous and/or ridiculous holiday family stories? The more dysfunctional the better…

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anne E. Johnson
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 05:52:09

    I’ve definitely done a lot of Stepfords and the occasional Houdini. My most disastrous holiday situation was one where we were all required by gruesome fate to hold it together:

    My sister was ill—terminally ill—and this was clearly going to be her last Christmas. She had never adjusted to my parents’ divorce 13 years before, and her Christmas wish was to have our family back together for Christmas. My mom and dad hadn’t even seen each other since they’d split, but they agreed to swallow their nausea and face each other. Oh, but my sister also wanted my dad’s new wife there!

    I don’t remember many specific details, just the horrific tension of that whole weekend caused by the forced bon-amie of these mutually toxic parties, plus the sadness over my sister’s fate. I still have trouble breathing when I think about it.


  2. Tiffany N. York
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 09:56:42

    Wow. I can just imagine the palpable tension, and that feeling of having to walk on eggshells. I hope having everyone together made your sister happy though, since that was the most important thing, and that your holidays have gotten much better since then!


  3. Cie
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 06:48:47

    As usual, extremely well-written, topical and amusing use of contemporary references


  4. Grief Happens
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 00:12:34

    Reblogged this on Grief Happens and commented:
    I recently discovered Tiffany’s delightful blog. LOVE this post. Enjoy!


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