Some of you have lovely in-laws. They ask you about your news, they listen to the answer and they are so pleased to have you as an addition to the family, making their son/daughter/sibling/grandchild’s life a happier one. But then there are those of us whose mother-in-law would really rather it was “just the family” – a circle that no amount of years served, vows made or children born permit entry. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, celebrating the wonderful birth of our Saviour. But it’s also a strange time where you’re expected to spend days on end cooped up with the same group of people. It requires a huge amount of patience for some, eggnog for others and politics for me.
Here I share the lessons I’ve learnt over the last few years. Many of you can ignore them all and look forward to long days ahead of family fun. Those of you who can feel a nervous twitch developing at the thought of the “frivolities” ahead, read on.
If you’ve faced the challenge of Christmas with your in-laws before, then you’re probably aware of the things that will be difficult. If it’s certain games they play, could you bring an alternative that you think would work? If it’s food they eat, could you offer to bring something that you prefer? Not a completely alternative meal, as that will go down very badly indeed, but perhaps a side dish or a dessert. If it’s the things they say or criticise, could you pre-empt that somehow? That might be by telling your partner to defend you if it happens.
- Come bearing gifts – lots of gifts
Now, this doesn’t always protect you from the in-laws – during the first Christmas with mine, his mother met me at the front door, laden with a crate of gifts for them all, to tell me she had “told him not to bring ‘friends’ around”. Smile through the pain. Joyfully give your chosen gifts, take a sip of wine when they give their ‘feedback’ and make sure you don’t listen to a word of it.
- Offer to help many more times than is really necessary
In fact, ask to help so many times that it verges on annoying. Let the take away from Christmas 2016 be that YOU HELPED, however much they’re loathed to admit it. And if you are given a job, do that job with glee. The kitchen is always where that party’s at, so even if have to wash up five saucepans and 24 plates, at least you will feel like one of the gang. Or be close to the gang, at least.
- Eat what you’re given
It won’t taste like the Christmas dinner of your childhood, and there’s bound to be something on your plate that, quite frankly, horrifies you, but I’m afraid you have to eat it. All of it. If you can’t, discreetly pass it on to your partner’s plate. They’re allowed to leave food. You aren’t.
- Peace is the best gift
If you moan about your in-laws to your partner – not a great idea on the whole, but sometimes necessary – then try to ensure Christmas Day is a day off from that total honesty. It might be the best gift you give. You obviously can’t air it to the in-laws themselves, so be careful not to turn your irritation into a fight between the two of you. If there is something has happened that has left you upset/annoyed/WANTING TO SCREAM – then try getting it off your chest without too much negativity. Something like: “It really upset me when your *insert family member here* did *insert act of horror here*.” Then try to move on. Infuriatingly, you can’t ask them to pick sides.
- Be a team player
You might be picked last for the annual game of charades, but don’t let those playground flashbacks worry you. Put your heart and soul into whatever dreadful game you’re forced to play, and make your team glad to have you on board. Who knows, that might be the first step towards them being glad you’re in the family, too; a Christmas miracle.
- Be kind
It can be easy to withdraw from people who you can sense don’t love you, but kindness – however hard it is – will make the situation easier, even if just making you feel better about yourself. Shower the whole family in love. When it gets tough, leave the room for a few minutes and refocus on the task at hand! Pray before, during and after. You can do this.
Do you have any top tips for navigating Christmas with difficult people? Share them in the comments section below or tell the threads team on Twitter or Facebook.