Whether you’re newly engaged or it’s one of your first holiday seasons as a married couple, spending the holidays with your in-laws can be stressful — but it doesn’t have to be! There are ways to make it fun, memorable, and enjoyable for all involved. We turned to an expert to get you eight great ways to ensure your holiday season is filled with joy, not anxiety.
You read that right: The holidays with your in-laws can be totally fun, free of stress, awkward conversations, intense politics, or etiquette fumbles. Amber Harrison, Wedding Paper Divas’ Style and Etiquette Expert and host of Small Talk, Big Day, has a few ideas that will help keep a smile on your face, as well as get you out of a pickle if you find yourself in one.
Start a New Family Tradition
“Gather the group to brainstorm over steaming mugs of coffee, cocoa, or hot toddys,” says Harrison. “Working together to create a new tradition can give everyone a sense of belonging and encourage closeness.” That could be a PJ dance party, recreating a beloved family recipe, a snowman-building competition, or cozying up with popcorn to watch holiday movies.
“Plan some time to volunteer together. Working together to serve others can offer a renewed sense of gratitude and common experience. It’s also something you can all focus on and relive while enjoying your own holiday festivities,” Harrison suggests.
Sit at the Kids’ Table
Are there a bunch of little ones running around? If the adult conversation starts to make you feel uncomfortable, excuse yourself and go find the kids! “Color, take silly selfies, play a boardgame, or just enjoy the lighthearted conversation. The kids will love the attention, and their parents will be happy to see you becoming a part of the family,” Harrison says.
Go Easy on the Alcohol
Sure, grabbing another drink might seem like a great way to ease the tension, but overdoing it can be disastrous. “Alcohol is notorious for lowering inhibitions,” Harrison reminds us, “Which is not exactly what you need when trying to keep the peace with a house full of people with diverse and varying beliefs, or those you may not know so well. Know your limit!”
Align with an Ally
“Identify someone at the party whom you can trust to help you navigate conversation away from uncomfortable topics,” Harrison advises. “That might be your spouse, a sister-in-law, cousin, or friend. Knowing someone has your back can make the tense moments much easier.”
If you’re hosting, make sure you’re prepared for anything. “Dream up a few activities that will engage your family members or guests if the need arises. Get out of the house and go ice skating, host a friendly game of flag football, play trivia games, or have a cookie-decorating station,” Harrison suggests. “Keeping busy with festive, unexpected activities can help keep the mood light. And if all else fails and things start to get out of hand (or you see them heading that way), have a few conversation topics in mind that are more neutral and comfortable.”
We’ve all been there: We’ve tried to steer the conversation, but suddenly we’re stuck in an awkward conversation that we can’t really escape. Harrison has an easy solution: “Whether it’s political or otherwise, approach the conversation with curiosity and levity. Asking a question instead of going on a rant will help keep you away from an argument.”
Have an Exit Strategy
If all else fails, the holidays are FULL of excuses to step out of the room. “Excuse yourself to help set the table, clear coffee cups, or cut the cake for dessert,” Harrison says. It’s an innocent (and useful) reason to leave, and you’ll look like a considerate guest or attentive host instead of someone who just can’t discuss politics any longer.