The naughty kids, the quaffing cousin, the lazy aunt: How to deal with family over the holidays

16 March 2017

A coming together of loved ones who haven’t seen one another in ages, piles of presents, mountains of delicious food, bottles of ice-cold bubbly waiting to be cracked open . . . It all sounds so good on paper.

A coming together of loved ones who haven’t seen one another in ages, piles of presents, mountains of delicious food, bottles of ice-cold bubbly waiting to be cracked open . . . It all sounds so good on paper. 

But alongside the hugs, toasts and hot-cross buns comes a barrage of friction and recipes for disaster. 

Guests who don’t respect your privacy, people who don’t lift a finger to help and relatives who fail to contribute a cent to the witheringly expensive food bill can put a damper faster than your kids can scoff all the Easter eggs. 

But conflict in families is often as much a part of special occasions as a big Sunday lunch – which is why we asked experts for help on how to handle the mayhem.

The trick is to accept that it will happen, says Christo van der Westhuizen, a psychologist from Randburg, Gauteng, who specialises in relationships. 
“That way the disappointment won’t be so great.” And that’s not being negative, he adds. It’s just being realistic. 

But it doesn’t have to be all bad. With the right measures, precautions and ground rules it can be a positive and joyous time, the experts say. 
Here are a few characters who often pop up at people’s homes during the silly season – and sensible advice on how to handle the situation without going crackers.

THE NAUGHTY CHILDREN

That sinking feeling when your pristine white sofa turns muddy as your bellowing nephews jump up and down on it. That murderous moment when your niece throws a tantrum because you ask her to turn off the cartoons so you can sit down to watch your favourite soapie.

What to do? 

Not all children are raised with the same rules and what’s taboo in your eyes might not be in the eyes of your guests, psychologist Christo van der Westhuizen explains. 

Don’t directly discipline someone else’s children, he warns. “Do it through their parents without insulting the child. Explain to the parents what your house rules are when it comes to kids and what they may or may not do.

The onus is then on the parents to see their children stick to these rules.” 

If they don’t, take the parents aside and point out their child’s behaviour – as politely as possible. 

And what happens if your children and your guests’ offspring have a falling out? 

“Try not to play judge and choose one side over the other,” Van der Westhuizen says. “Explain to them in a calm but firm way that you’re celebrating and their bickering is ruining the atmosphere. Tell them to sort it out outside and come back only when they’ve come to an agreement.”

THE LAZY AUNT

She’s always the first to fill her plate and the first to nod off once she’s polished off her meal. 

She has a knack for vanishing when the washing up has to be done and is as scarce as the Easter Bunny when meals are being prepared. How to deal? 

Social worker and life coach Elma Bartlett, suggests you divide up everyone’s duties and responsibilities before your guests descend on you. 

“That way you can set some guidelines so you don’t end up doing all the work. If guests are staying over, make sure there’s cereal and bread so everyone can see to themselves in the morning – and make sure you tell them breakfast is a DIY meal.” 

Draw up a kitchen roster so all your guests get a turn to clean up after meals, she adds. 

“You can also arrange for everyone to take turns preparing supper – and that includes buying the food. 

“It’s important you don’t allow the lazy aunt to manipulate you and make you her slave.” 

If everyone knows what’s expected of them it should go some way to killing the conflict.

THE KNOW-IT-ALL UNCLE

He has strong views on everything from Donald Trump and the state of the economy to the right way to mix a cocktail – and challenge him at your peril! 

How can you tell him to put a stocking in it without ruining the festive cheer? Life coach Elma Bartlett concedes it’s a tough one. 

People who think they’re right all the time and try to force their opinions on everyone else can be a formula for conflict. 

“This is why it’s always a good idea to avoid sensitive subjects when relatives – who each have their own views – get together.” 

Try not to get your back up when that pedant at the table passes comments. Change the subject as soon as things look as if they’re getting out of hand. 

“It’s also a good idea to speak to the offending uncle beforehand and explain that although your views differ you still want to enjoy a wonderful holiday together. You can agree to disagree.”

THE QUAFFING COUSIN

He cracked open his first beer not long after breakfast and by the time evening comes and everyone is sipping their first glass of bubbly he’s flying: slurring, swearing and generally being objectionable. 

Sure, Christmas is a time to let your hair down but some things are just not on. “Don’t try to take this cousin on in front of everyone else or while he’s drunk,” psychologist Christo van der Westhuizen warns. 

“It will only make the situation worse. Wait until the following day to address it with him. 

“Explain that you don’t mind having a drink or two with him but that when he’s had one too many he does and says things that are unacceptable. Try not to insult him or get into a fight though.” 

There’s nothing more likely to drive you to drink than a frosty atmosphere. Frosty should be reserved for the beers alone.

THE UNWELCOME GUESTS

It’s a time of peace and goodwill and all that but what happens when relatives unexpectedly call you up and expect a roof over their heads for the holidays? 

The solution is to be friendly but firm. Give them an alternative, advises psychologist Christo van der Westhuizen. 

“Say it would be nice to catch up one evening but that you’re unable to offer them a bed – you’re simply full up. Suggest a few good guesthouses in the area and decide on a date that would be convenient for them to visit. 

“And remember, you don’t have to be hard on yourself. It’s your home and you have the right to decide who gets to stay and when.”

Have you entered our Caltex competition?

This could be the easiest way to get cash for the holidays! Stand a chance to win R5 000 every week for the next three weeks – or win the R10 000 grand prize!

Simply make sure you fill up at Caltex to the value of R300 or more and keep your slip then head to the YOU website to enter.

The competition runs from 19 March until 16 April 2018. Click here to enter.

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