My husband and I have both lost our parents, who were the glue that held each of our families together. Since their deaths, our siblings and in-laws don’t feel close enough to have holiday get-togethers in each others’ homes. Old resentments surface, and it’s just uncomfortable. Our extended family now meets in a crowded public place, such as a brewery. You choose who you sit next to, and can’t really talk to the others because of the boisterous atmosphere. Conflict doesn’t usually arise in public, and if it does, it’s too noisy to notice.
— Nancy, Asheville, N.C.
Find a connection.
My brother and I have very different political views. We have had a couple of fights at Christmastime that upset my mother to the point of tears. So last Christmas, we brought our guitars to the family gathering. (We are lifelong musicians. It’s a hobby for him. I’m a professional.) When we’re singing, we can’t fight. He had such a great time, he stayed longer than planned.
— Jamie, Tucson, Ariz., and Ottawa.
Stave off regression.
When spending time with family over the holidays, I bring a few mementos — my business cards, photos with friends, and my house keys — all to remind me that I have a fulfilling life elsewhere. I usually keep them where I sleep, private from other family members. These are my “anti-regression” tools. I am old, and my mother is very old. But the family dynamic, no matter the age of the participants, is usually the same forever!
— Maureen, Palm Desert, Calif.
When in doubt, talk sports.
We avoid the following at dinner: the Middle East, Donald Trump, Fidel Castro (we live in Miami), Joe Biden’s age, Grandma’s will, what any college-age child is studying in school, what they want to be when they grow up or why they have a nose ring, earring or tattoos. Stick to: the food, football, the next ski trip, your last trip abroad. When issues arise, we enjoy the old fallback: “How about those Mets?”
— Roger, Miami
Help (and hide).
I have my version of the serenity prayer: God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can — and the wisdom to get up and go do the dishes.
— Lucia, Miramar Beach, Fla.