Staying Sane at Family Functions

Ah, the holidays! A time for family get-togethers, where spirits run high and tension can take its toll. Find out how RD staff deal with family functions. We would love to hear your survival tips as well! 

We all get stressed out around the holiday season. The idyllic image of an united family singing in perfect pitch around the season’s centre piece is rarely realized off screen. Most families tend to hit a few communication roadblocks, culinary disasters and other stressful situations throughout a typical holiday weekend.

Whether you’re slaving away in the kitchen trying to cook for your vegan niece while your strictly carnivorous uncle looks on disapprovingly or trying to make conversation with semi-deaf great-aunt Diane, the important thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone. This too shall pass but in the meantime you have to know how to deal.

This Thanksgiving season, RD staff united to offer you our family stress management suggestions.

Take a Break

Get everyone (except a couple of people working on preparing the meal) to get out for an hour for a nice fall walk. It puts everyone in a good mood, is refreshing and gives the host or hostess a bit of a break from having kids and well-meaning relatives underfoot in the kitchen.


Why Should the Hostess Do It All?

  • Ask people to bring one specific thing—a dessert, a salad, a vegetable dish, whatever.
  • Ask people on specialized diets if they would prefer to bring their own food–after it’s the company that’s important. They will feel more comfortable knowing they are getting the right food, you won’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time labouring over a specific dish while preparing dinner for a horde.
  • Give the difficult relative(s) a specific task—preferably something you really don’t want to do. This also gets them out of your hair!
  • Allow people to help serve and clean up (load the dishwasher or wash dishes). A lot of good conversations are had over dishes and suds.

– Julie

6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Guests

  • The picky eater: When you invite guests for dinner be sure to ask if they have restriction or don’t eat certain foods, either by preference or for medical reasons. Then plan your menu according to your guests’ preferences and prepare recipes that every one will feel enjoy. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than sitting at a table where guests aren’t eating. A tailored menu will make your guests will feel welcomed and understood. Also announce the menu to everyone and don’t be afraid to discuss everyone’s preferences: it makes conversation.
  • Argumentative relative: If an argument occurs suggest that instead of arguing, they turn the conversation into a joke or change the subject altogether. It’s also okay to say "sorry but this evening we do not accept arguments. We’re here to have fun and be together so please change subject," if you’re the host. If these strategies don’t work, put in a CD and announce that it’s time to sing. If the argumentative relative doesn’t like it, then he can leave early-his choice.
  • If you don’t get along with at relative: Stay calm and neutral, talk about things you know they like to talk about, listen to their stories without commenting or arguing. Just keep saying "good for you".
  • If someone is hard of hearing, don’t make that person sit next to the stereo or where it’s noisy.
  • Don’t abandon your guests. Someone who’s sitting alone would probably be happy to help in the kitchen.
  • Count to 5 before voicing any frustration. This will help you put things into perspective.

– Caroline (in collaboration with her mom and bff)

Know When to Turn On the TV

Spending quality time with your folks is important, but it can quickly turn into too much of a good thing. To keep the conversation from wandering to places it doesn’t belong create a fun focal point the whole family can enjoy. Pop an old family video or a favourite holiday movie into your DVD player for instant amusement.

Not into the tube? Play a game of scrabble or cards to keep everyone in the holiday spirit.


Have the Occasional Food Fight

Throwing some food around is a great way to vent frustration. Just make sure you throw mushy foods like mashed potatoes, and wait till the food cools before you toss. Vent your frustration in a positive manner. Do not inflict injury!


To Drink Or Not to Drink

Easy on the booze. Otherwise you may lose your inhibitions and tell some difficult relative what you really think of them!




You’re All Grown Up

Keep breathing. Remind yourself how much you love them and that you don’t live with them anymore. Have your therapist on speed dial, just in case.

– Shelagh

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