Holiday Tips For Progressives With Families

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Want to have a holiday with your family that is warm and fuzzy? You probably don't need to trade-up at Adopt-A Family -- you just need to engage in some serious loving. Here are three tips for being at the cause, rather than at the effect, of your family's celebration this year.

HOLIDAY TIP #1: Don't Expect Them to Change.

They are who they are:

  • Your narcissistic sister is not going to turn into Mother Theresa at gift time.
  • Your brother has not studied non-violent communications since you last saw him.
  • Your impeccable logic will not change your uncle Ralph's vote.
  • Your mother will not have an "Aha" moment and start delegating due to your lecture on management theory.
  • Your father will not make sure everyone has an equal chance to control the remote.
  • The Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup on the green beans will not be replaced with a light tarragon vinaigrette.
  • The main topic of conversation will be the same as last year, whether that was what's wrong with your ex-brother-in-law, what's wrong with the economy, or what's wrong with the government.

And, if you think it should be otherwise, you will be annoyed, irritated, resigned, long-suffering, confrontational, or sullen. As usual.

Are you still hoping to change them? FUGGEDABOUTIT. Accept them. Acceptance is your gift to the people you love. You don't have to agree with them, eat the food, or be co-dependent. You just need to give up resisting who they are. Stop making them wrong (even if they ARE wrong). Let them be themselves, instead of thinking they should somehow be different.

How does it make you feel when people don't accept you--your choices, your preferences, your opinions? Does it make you more--or less-- open to what they are saying? Your relatives are no different. All people respond best when they feel accepted. If they felt accepted, they might hear another possibility.

If you want to have a wonderful time this year, enjoy the people you love just as they are, and see what happens. Find something to appreciate, even in things you used to find annoying. Acceptance and appreciation are magic. They can be contagious!

HOLIDAY TIP #2: Be the change you want to see!

Are you bored with the conversation? Do you find it dreary chatting about cars and clothes?Ask questions you find interesting and then listen to the answers. Listen, don't argue. Get to know the children by asking them their opinions. You'll be surprised.

  • Do you have a family that doesn't talk? Ask a question everyone can answer (like: What was the most unusual gift you ever got for Christmas?).
  • Do you usually watch the game? This year help in the kitchen instead, and get Mom's appreciation.
  • Do you usually help in the kitchen? You might learn about football from Uncle Joe, if you watch the game.
  • Do you hate the food? Make something spectacular and let people ooh and aah (and if they don't, at least you'll get to enjoy it).
  • Do you and your narcissistic sister compete for attention? What the heck, let her have all YOUR attention, too. She needs it.
  • Is Mom controlling everything, trying to make it all perfect again? Give her a big hug and thank her for working so hard to make everything wonderful.
  • Does your brother-in-law bait you by quoting Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh? One-up him on Obama bashing until it becomes so absurd no one can take it seriously. Tell him the reason Obama doesn't have a birth certificate is because he was never born.

Be different, and you'll be amazed at the difference it makes in others.

HOLIDAY TIP #3: Be the grown-up in all your interactions.

You are the person responsible for the success of your relationships. It is not 50/50. No one else signed up. They probably don't even know there's a problem. That means it's your job.

Haven't you done more spiritual and emotional work than other members of your family? If you were going skiing, wouldn't you expect the most experienced skier to be responsible for the group's well-being? If you were traveling abroad, wouldn't the person with the greatest fluency be responsible to communicate with the locals? When it comes to relationships--that's YOU! You are the friendly guide in the domain of family communications and relations.

(Has your uncle George studied Tantric eye-gazing since you last saw him? Has your dad gone into therapy? Has your brother-in-law finally done the Forum? Just checking.)

You have more training in communicating, identifying your "stuff" when it comes up, and letting go. I know this because you are reading this, and they are not. You probably have a better shot at guiding things toward health than your Auntie or your dad. This is the perfect opportunity to use what you've learned ( NOTE: I did not say " the perfect opportunity to teach it").

How? Give up the right to be right.

  • Who cares if your mother's story about your kindergarten play isn't entirely accurate? Let her enjoy it!
  • If your brother is sarcastic, respond with active listening by reflecting back what he says, "I hear you think all Democrats are idiots."
  • Remember, if it's not going well, You are responsible. That's good news, because you can make it go a different way any time you choose!
  • Whatever it is, if what you're doing isn't giving you the results you want, try anything else! Even if it doesn't work, it will be more interesting.

Wishing you a very Happy Holiday Season! I'd love to hear how these tips worked out for you---but only if you try them!