How to prevent holiday dread…

How to prevent holiday dread... by Keri Kettle

I lived overseas for much of my childhood and grew up among people that had run away from home.  Not like those homeless runaway street kids.  I’m talking about expatriates – people that chose to leave their families to live in a foreign country.  Some of them were adventurers and full of travel lust.  The best times are when they would get together at parties and tell their travel stories.  My mom could tell you about the time we accidentally crossed into Communist East Germany on a dark, foggy night and nearly peed our pants with fear until we figured out how to get back out.  Our friends would share about being taken in by a Syrian family in the middle of the desert or bribing a cop in Manila to avoid having their car impounded.

But there were also expatriates that created homes that looked from the inside like they had just been picked up and delivered from Indiana or Maine.  They didn’t have the exotic treasures and trinkets from places they had traveled.  They just left home and planted themselves far, far away from their family.  Their stories were different, they had less of a lust for travel and more of a desire to not spend their lives getting the stink-eye from Aunt Martha at Thanksgiving for their entire life.  It’s a lot easier to avoid unpleasant family gatherings when you live thousands of miles away.

We all have one (or many) family members that we wouldn’t be sad to hear aren’t going to show up for the next family party.  The one that criticizes every choice you make.  The one that resents your happiness.  The one that is making choices that break your heart.

The beauty of spending a lot of time living among friends and not family, is that I learned a different approach to the holiday table or the dinner party.  I wasn’t related to these people – if they had bad taste in boyfriends or politics that made me want to hurl, who cares?  Any bat shit crazy opinions they had or irrational life choices they made just meant better stories.

I LOVE a good story.

I’ve lived back in the Unites States now for quite a while, with plenty of time stuck at a dinner table hearing about this cousin’s insane politics or that cousin’s questionable religious theology.

But I carry my curiosity with me.

When faced with opinions or choices that hurt your feelings or your heart, take a step back and be guided by your curiosity instead of your desire to fix things:

  • LISTEN not with a sense of wanting to fix or give advice but just to hear where they are coming from.  When I listen from a place of curiosity and not judgment, I can avoid getting upset in that moment and telling my great-aunt she’s a dumbass for taking diet pills in her 80’s.**
  • ACCEPT that they might not be asking you for help or the help they want from you is not something you are willing to give.  If someone asks me for my opinion, I might give it or I might not.  If I know they are just looking to argue with me, I might just say that I will love them no matter what they choose to do.  I will almost certainly remind them that they don’t need my approval (this is also a great reminder to myself not to look for their approval).
  • SPEAK from a place of truth filtered by love.  I don’t have to tell everyone what I think about their life choices, their opinions or their decision to dress their 5 year old like a hooker.  My base line filter is, “is this my problem?”  I can absolutely say that I won’t serve alcohol to a minor in my home because I’m a rule follower and I’m not willing to break the law.  I don’t have to shovel kale salad on my niece’s plate and make a comment about parenting and nutrition.  I don’t have to police how many glasses of wine Uncle Fred has tossed back – unless he is offering to drive me or my kids somewhere (and then I find another ride).
  • AVOID THE HOOCH.  Nothing gets us opening our big traps with our opinions, resentments and hurt feelings faster than a few glasses of booze.  Sip slowly and bring a hefty appetizer so you can avoid the tipsy “truth-telling hour”.
  • PLAN YOUR ESCAPE.  If you are feeling like your nervous system can’t take anymore, take a walk.  There is almost always someone else eager to get out and away, especially people with restless small children.  If you have had bad experiences in the past, start talking about how you need to leave early at the beginning of the event so you can make an early exit gracefully.  They may still talk smack about you after you leave but, who cares?  By then, you will be sipping champagne in your bubble bath.

And if none of this works.  Go here and become an expatriate yourself.  I hear good things about Costa Rica.

**All names, relation and story details have been changed to avoid having me get stabbed with a pie fork.

Please share your thoughts.