A cheat sheet for coping with family during the holidays

A cheat sheet for coping with family during the holidays

Last week we explored the challenges of being your best self, especially as you get together with family over the holidays. However, with Santa already getting his sleigh ready, you might not have enough time to figure out what your best self for the holidays is. Instead, in this last post of the year, we review a couple of coping strategies for the diverse selves that are bound to come up at the upcoming family gathering(s). Hopefully, you won't have to face all of them at once, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Disclaimer: any similarity with real people and families is purely coincidental.


The full-time mom, always bringing more food to the table: Nothing can be done to avoid that, I'm afraid. Try to pace yourself during dinner and try not to look too hungry. Accept the fact that there's always more food coming.

The grandparent: They've probably lived through a war or two, and still haven't killed each other after all these years together. Be nice to them. Listen to their stories and be patient even when they spend 15 minutes trying to remember whatshisface's name that is utterly irrelevant to your enjoyment of the story. An excellent way for getting outside your usual bubble.

The choleric: Bound to surface, especially after a few glasses of their alcoholic beverage of choice. Offering more wine might not be the best solution, instead, try cookies. Or ask them advice about a topic they know a lot about and can proudly share their expertise on #deflection.

The conspiracist who doesn't believe in climate change: Now, a few years ago, I might advise you to ignore them. But climate change is now a serious issue, and vaccines skepticism is turning outright dangerous. According to New Scientist, recent research bears good news: it's possible to challenge irrational beliefs if you do it right — and family gatherings might be one of the best opportunities for doing so. As explored in our Unbricked Guide to Twitter, calling somebody stupid is likely to get their shields up and block further arguments. Instead, explore the why behind their beliefs and have well-research facts prepared. You're no better than the conspiracist if you wing your arguments based on gut feelings. And while you might not convince every conspiracist to join the scientific side, you can set a good example to the kids about how to discuss with curiosity and use the magical selfie device in your pocket for fact-checking. If you want to come prepared, bookmark this climate change FAQ and read this (free, short & sweet) Debunking Handbook.

The new parent: Resist the temptation of giving parenting advice, especially if you're childfree. After all, don't you hate it when people give you tips about how to raise your cats?

The concerned relative keeping tabs on your procreation timeline: Deflect to any new (or expecting) parents. Remind them that the gene line is spreading — your full siblings share 50% of your DNA and here's a fun cheat sheet about how much DNA you share with your other relatives.

The kid: Tricky territory because you can easily upset their parents. Avoid discussing the ontology of Santa. LEGO bricks and Minecraft are probably the safest conversation topics.

The selfie-obsessed teenager: Like cats, they will like you more if you ignore them. Remember that their frontal cortex is still evolving. However, if the selfie-obsessed person is over 30, by all means, roll your eyes. Either way, you can try recruiting them as the official event photographer for an Instagram-worthy family portrait.

The cynic: It feels like the pessimists have a point: we're f***ing up the climate, AI is out to take our jobs while we look suspiciously at immigrants, millennials are ruining things because they're broke, and don't even get me started on Brexit. Alas, cynicism as a lifestyle comes with its set of health warnings, so while it can be tempting to go down Cynicism Road, it might be healthier to take the time instead to talk about the small things that enrich our lives. Books that fuel our curiosity, TV shows that embrace the human messiness, hobbies we're passionate about — and turn the conversation into an exploration of possible actions, not just complaints. Also, cookies.

The new recruit: Few things bond a family like going through the best hits of embarrassing stories to entertain their new partner. If you're the new family recruit, enjoy seeing your partner embarrassed but don't try too hard to remember all the stories, they are sure to come up over and over again. Again, delicious warm cookies might make the situation more bearable on both sides.

The relative you don't know much about: If asking about their favorite Netflix show draws a blank, try striking a conversation about their passion project, they might surprise you. If it turns out their passion is spreading conspiracies online, see advice for "the conspiracist."

The resident cat: Guaranteed hours of fun trying to get their attention while avoiding other tricky situations. Shiny strings from gifts might work well as a decoy.

The visiting dog: Possible solution to the food overload problem mentioned above but only when done sparingly to avoid the tragedy of the commons. Don't forget that chocolate is bad for dogs, kids have better tolerance.

The snowman chilling in the yard: Just doing its job. Maybe bring it a fresh carrot nose after dinner.


And this is it for this year! Be kind to yourself, and try to enjoy the holidays. Up here in the Northern hemisphere, the days will get longer again after this week's winter solstice, so hang in there! And if you’re celebrating holidays down under, enjoy your Christmas ice cream.

And remember, when all else fails, there's always cookies.

Being yourself vs. being your best self

Being yourself vs. being your best self