Surviving all that Christmas togetherness

Does this sound familiar?

It's Christmas. Your aunt yells at your child during dinner.

Your sister leaves her five kids "for just a few minutes." Your uncle has one too many drinks and offers to take your kids for a ride in his new sports car.

Or in my case, your father-in-law starts screaming about Gummy Bears eating his brain. He bolts from the room. No one knows what he does next -- until the evening news.

Dressed as a giant artichoke, he is dancing on the Marion Street Bridge, singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl."

We all go through these things.

The holidays give us time to come together as families and remind ourselves we are related to a cavalcade of freaks. Face it. Your family is like a bowl of cereal. Once you take out the fruits and nuts, all you have left are the flakes.

Fortunately for you, there is always Mary Dondiego of VitalSmarts LC.

She sent me a press release on how to endure yet another dreary holiday season with the obnoxious cretins who -- by a cruel stroke of fate -- ended up in your family.

Mary tells me four out of five people have unruly relations they would like to see shaved bald, painted purple and thrown into a deep pit with a big mean dog.

She said it a little differently. However, you get the gist.

Her information came from an unscientific poll of 270 people who responded to a web survey at

So the results might be a bit skewed.

OK, I don't really know the name of the actual website. It just seemed like important information to include.

More startling, 87 percent of those surveyed said the underlying issue remains unresolved -- mostly because the rotten $#&! responsible refuses to die.

"Half of us just badmouth these problem relatives or steer clear of them as much as possible," said the incredibly sensitive Joseph Grenny, coauthor of an incredibly sensitive book on relationships.

The other half of us try to resolve our problems with a ball-peen hammer.

Neither approach proves truly successful, Grenny said.

"Believe it or not, there is a way to successfully confront the problem solvers, strengthen your relationships with them and then get back to enjoying the spirit of the holidays. Most people just don't know where to start."

Here are some tips.

Work on yourself first.

Conversations end badly when people fail to respect one another.

Consider you might have issues as well. Realize when your sister says you are "a sick loathsome vermin fit only for extermination," she means it as constructive criticism.

Start on safe ground.

If you have a problem with someone, don't dive right into the issue. Ease into it. Say something innocuous and nonthreatening.

"Say, Uncle Carl, you're a scum-sucking bottom feeder. Read any good books lately?"

Begin with the facts.

When you dive into the issue, strip out accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language. Start with facts.

"I notice you have gone a month between showers. You smell like a rotting corpse. Are you trying to get into the Guiness Book of World Records as the human skunk?"

Share concerns.

Having laid out the facts, tell the person why you are concerned.

"If you refuse to bathe, I am concerned that I am going to take you down to the river and beat you against a rock."

Avoid accusations. Just share an opinion.

"I desperately want to hurt you -- really, really hurt you. But then I risk going to jail. That would put a real damper on the holidays for me. It wouldn't be very pleasant for you either."

Invite conversation.

After sharing your thoughts, encourage the other person to share his or her own.

"Any last words before I dig out your liver with this spoon?"

Give each other some space.

All this "togetherness" during the holidays can really get on people's nerves. Take some time to be by yourself and encourage your loved ones to do the same.

My family constantly suggests I go to the office, the store or some other place where I can be alone.

So concerned are they for my well being that they often seem visibly upset when I return from one of these private sojourns.

They immediately suggest I take a nap to rest from my travels.

Sometimes, while I'm gone, they'll play our special family hiding game. My parents started this tradition when I was a kid. It once took me three weeks to track them down. I eventually found them in Idaho.

Boy, were they sad when that game ended.

I know not every family gets along as wonderfully as mine. However, with a little love and understanding, you too can survive Christmas.

(Tom Henderson is the managing editor of the Itemizer-Observer. His family wants you to know he is just kidding. They love him very much -- except when he writes columns like this one.)


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