Wish You Weren’t Here: Dealing with Extended Family During the Holidays

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

Admit it. The idea of getting together with your extended family during the holidays always sounds better before you actually do it. Then you all get together and suddenly you wish you were somewhere else! Does this mean that you’re anti-family? No. Anti-social? Unlikely. It just means that you’re like most people. Hanging out with the extended family during the holidays can be taxing if you haven’t prepared for it. Get help >

Making family time worthwhile and meaningful takes some planning and some flexibility. Here are three easy steps to help you ease into spending time with extended family during the holidays:

Step 1: Ask yourself: What makes extended family time stressful? Maybe you forgot how talkative one family member is or how another likes to tell racist jokes that offend you. Maybe the marriage of one of the couples is on the verge of breaking up and the two of them drag tension into your holiday get-together. Pay attention to what makes you and your kids upset.

Step 2: Find ways to lower the stress. Part of the difficulty with holidays is that your daily routine goes out the window. Adults tend to have an easier time adapting to those changes, but kids don’t. Young children still need an afternoon nap. Kids still need some time to run around and blow off steam. Remember: everyone needs some alone time to decompress.

  • Ask yourself: How can I enjoy my extended family members? Instead of focusing on what’s bothering you, put your energy into getting something out of the relationship. For example, elderly family members often have great stories to tell about their childhood and about your ancestors.
  • Ask yourself: How can I bring people together? In our family, certain family members love to cook. Even on the holidays, they’re working in the kitchen, baking something new. Other family members enjoy fixing things. So they tackle a simple project or help a family member problem solve a sticky issue. Other families bring a deck of cards or board games. We always bring extra ideas of what to do in case the kids start getting antsy or we need to break up the routine to infuse some new energy and excitement into the holiday.

Step 3: Take action! Be proactive about making the time you spend with your family during the holidays as pleasant as possible. One year, I sat down with my kids before the holidays and said that they could become detectives during the holidays. We brainstormed a list of interesting questions to ask extended family members during the holidays. We asked: What are you most proud of? Which age did you enjoy the most and why? What scares you the most? What makes you happiest? What has been the biggest waste of your time? How do you spend a free a weekend? What makes you really mad? What do you think of the state of our world? When we got together, our kids acted as reporters and did individual interviews with some of our family members. Those interviews really got people talking.

  • Try getting kids and adults to interact more. Consider creating a different seating arrangement at your holiday table. Place a child from a different family between a different adult. (You’ll need infants, toddlers, and possibly preschoolers to be seated next to a parent so they can help them eat.) Think of some clever conversation starters. Play silly games, such as “Who has the most stuffed animals?” or “Who can talk in the most accents?”

Isn’t it time to breathe new life into relationships and into your holidays? Spending time with your extended family can be a fun experience for both you and your kids when you prepare well.


1. Peter C. Scales, Ph.D., Peter Benson, Ph.D., and Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Grading grown-ups: American adults report on their real relationships with kids Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2001.

2. Caring relationships, ParentFurther.

3. Holidays, ParentFurther.

4. Image via Deb Roby on Flick’r.

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[...] [Related: Wish You Weren’t Here: Dealing with Extended Family During the Holidays] [...]

Dear Jolene... thanks for posting this inspireing article. It was a pleasure reading it and yes, spending time with family is one of the most important things in life.

Getting together with family seems to be the most memorable moment for any person. As we know in this busy schedule life how much we are busy in our work that we are not able to get enough quality time for our family. So holiday is the better time for us to spend quality time with our family. I hope people would love these idea to spend time with family it ultimately reduce stress and depression and physical and mental burden. In different point of view we must recognized that while spending time with family we are able to solve our family problems.

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