If you get a tight stomach even thinking about attending seasonal family reunions, here are some tips to loosen the knots.
Arrive well rested and well fed
It’s harder to manage your emotions when you’re tired and hungry. Even though the gathering might center around food, don’t starve yourself thinking you can eat with everyone else. Eat something hearty and nutritious, like a cheese sandwich, a bean soup, or even veggie sticks dipped in hummus, before you leave your house.
Have a support person
Make sure you have an adult who has your back. Bring a partner, friend, or adult child who can be your support. Tell them upfront what your fears are and make up a signal for “come distract me right now,” or “get me outta here,” or “quick reassure me I’m not the middle child anymore.” Just knowing this person is here for you can make the difference between simmering feelings and a pleasant time, or a pleasant time and rekindled bonds.
Accept what is
Don’t pick the family reunion to confront anyone, teach anyone, or show anyone anything. With expectations of “perfect” holidays, know that real holidays are just regular days, with rules, traditions, and hopes of magic heaped onto them. This isn’t the day your mother and aunt will finally get along if they haven’t gotten along before. This isn’t the time to finally speak up to your dad about how he wasn’t there for you. For now, accept them as they are – with imperfections and flaws. Accept yourself as you are, and know that you can have that confrontation at a later date of your choosing. You can try to bring your mom and aunt closer – if you really must – later.
Don’t overthink the things
Tangible things like food and gifts you give are just that - things. If the pie boils over, so be it. I promise the pie eaters in the family will still eat it. If your gift for your brother-in-law falls flat, he knows how you feel about him anyway. If you care for him, he already knows it, and doesn’t mind about the gift. If you can’t stand the sight of him, he already knows that too. If your holiday clothes don’t look as good as you thought they would, I promise it’s alright. The good thing about family is they already know you. If they are normally impressed by your dress, they’ll still be impressed by your dress, and if not, what you wear this holiday won’t change their opinion.
Have a plan
If you fear strife, you can role-play possible scenarios and their resolution. Imagine a possible tough time, like grandma and Uncle Bob fighting over politics and drinks. What can you do? Play it through in your mind all the way to the finish – you ignore them. Or you ask them to stop and they do. Or you ask them to stop and they don’t, then what? Do you leave? Do you ignore? Play it out.
Also, plan your getaway. Sometimes just knowing you’ve given yourself permission to leave whenever you want makes staying possible. If you’re riding with others, make sure they are in on the plan and agree to your getaway terms. Or drive yourself.
If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink in moderation. It’s harder to manage difficult emotions when alcohol has lowered your inhibitions. If you need alcohol to confront someone or make them see how wrong they are, reread the paragraph on accepting what is, and wait for another time. If your sister knows it all, take her in small doses. Enjoy her as you can but, before you feel like pulling out your hair, veer off to another conversation or find a quiet spot to meditate.
Leave while the going is good
Finally, if you start to get tired – physically or emotionally – say your goodbyes. In fact, before you get tired – start saying your goodbyes. You don’t need to stay until the very end. It’s OK to leave whenever you want, even if everything is going well. You’re saying goodbye to the event, not to your family. Know you can visit them again, one on one – which can be less stressful anyway.
How do you manage family reunions? Comment on what works. I'd love to hear.
Thanks for reading, and be well. ~ Robin