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It doesn’t have to be so stressful

Quick Notes:

  • Planning a holiday gathering for a dysfunctional family has its challenges

  • Set your boundaries and have conversations with your family before the event

  • More tips and tricks on how to plan the upcoming family dinners

Is there anything better than the holiday season? You can decorate your house, sing carols, eat delicious food, and socialize with friends and family while appreciating each other’s company. But what happens if you have a dysfunctional family? Planning a holiday gathering can be close to impossible.

For one thing, it’s difficult to please everyone. Maybe your mother-in-law doesn’t approve of everything you do in your home. Maybe your cousins don’t get along with each other. If you haven’t seen your family in years, these gatherings can be awkward as you play “catch-up.”

Just in case you need some inspiration on how to keep your holiday gathering cordial, we have the complete guide on how to plan your upcoming parties and celebrations. Stick to these strategies and techniques, and you’ll have a less stressful holiday season.

Start planning as early as possible

Once you schedule your party and notify your family and friends, start planning the event. Think about how your family members get along. If you know there is a conflict between two family members, don’t sit them beside each other during the family dinner. If you have a game plan well in advance of the gathering, and if you stick to that plan, this will reduce the stress you typically experience during the holiday season.

CDC / Mary Anne Fenley, Courtesy: Public Health Image Library

As you plan your party, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to cook all of the food yourself. Ask your guests to contribute to the meal by bringing their signature dish. This will give you more time to focus on other parts of the planning process, including holiday decorations, games, and more. You don’t have to do everything yourself just because you’re hosting the party.

Set your boundaries

Before the family gathering, think about the boundaries you want to set. Are there certain relatives you can’t tolerate, but you have to invite? Are there relatives you know don’t like each other? Are there others that you can handle in a group setting but not in one-on-one conversations?

Think about your boundaries until you can come up with a scenario that makes you feel the most comfortable at the gathering.

If you’re only comfortable hosting the party for four hours, make sure your family knows how long the gathering will last before they arrive. Would it help if you invited a few close friends who can ease some tension? Perhaps plan some ice-breaker games that will get everyone laughing.

Remember to breathe

Hosting a family gathering can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Remember to breathe. If something goes wrong (like, if two family members begin arguing), it’s going to be okay. Sometimes, drama happens, but it doesn’t have to ruin the party.

You dedicated time, effort, energy, and love to this gathering. You obviously care about your family, and you want everyone to get along. Take control of your party, and if family members fight, separate them until they calm down. Don’t let the drama rain on your parade.

But as you plan your party, don’t focus on everything that could go wrong. Instead, be positive.

Your family could have changed during the year (or multiple years, if you haven’t had a gathering in a while). Don’t give up on the hope that everything will go okay. If you remain positive, you’ll be more excited about the party. You won’t dread it, which will make the event planning process less stressful. We are always a fan of less stress.

The chances are that your family members will try their best to remain cordial during your party. But if they don’t, relax. You know how to handle it. You’re going to be just fine.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

A complete guide to planning your first Thanksgiving family gathering.

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Planning any party is stressful. Follow these tips to make your first hosting experience as easy as possible.