Ideally holidays are meant to be happy, joyous and life-affirming times spent together. Filled with joy and gratitude, inspiring us to connect with family and friends near and far. Opportunities to catch up with what everyone is doing, their lives, their children's lives, their adventures and challenges.

For many, however, holiday dinners can be a very stressful time. On the one hand we are out of our regular routines, and can feel rushed and overwhelmed by family obligations. On the other hand, If your family members have addictions, or other impulse control behaviours, spending holidays with them can fill you with dread rather than adding to your list of loving memories.

Since you may feel obliged to attend your family dinner over this Easter or Passover holiday, here are some tips that may help things go smoother.

1. Be clear on your expectations. This year's list of dysfunctional people will likely be the same as last year. The only difference this year is that you can go with a strategy that will help you feel more empowered and less manipulated by their moods and behaviours.
2. Don't give away your power. Those members who know how to trigger you cannot do it without your permission. Remove yourself from toxic people. Don't argue, blame or discuss. Just leave the room, go for a walk, drink a glass of water or take several deep breaths.
3. Sit closest to the relatives you have a better time with and ignore the others.
4. Have an exit strategy. Plan a time to leave and agree on a signal you can give your partner when you have had enough.
5. Keep busy; help in the kitchen, entertain the kids or pass around the food.
6. Use laughter and humour to break the ice and ease the tension in the room.
7. Focus on why you are here and remember it is time limited. The reason behind these family get-togethes is a time to re-connect with relatives and friends who you care about and want to keep in close contact. You can fulfill this purpose with just one member of your family and focus on that relationhship and the happiness it brings to you and your children. If you are successful with that, then you have had a successful family dinner.
8. If you are stuck sitting next to a toxic relative, don't get into any heavy discussions. Keep it light; discuss the weather, vacations, or how much you enjoy the meal prepared here tonight.
9. Make an effort to avoid sitting next to difficult people when possible. Contact your host several days in advance and request where you would prefer to be seated.
10. Prepare mentally and physically for this dinner. Make sure you have a good night's sleep, don't drink too much before or during the dinner. Plan your schedule well, so you do not feel rushed or overwhelmed. Make sure the kids are not hungry and had a nap before leaving your home. Do some deep breathing exercises or listen to some relaxing music before you enter their home. When your body and mind feel more relaxed and prepared, you will also feel more confidant, more tolerant, more able to deflect unpleasant conversations leading to a more successful dinner for all.

Happy holidays,

Have a great week.

Author's Bio: 

Montreal licensed psychotherapist, Rhonda Rabow M.A., has been involved in couple, individual and family counselling in the Montreal area for over twenty years. One of her specialties is offering short-term counselling with long-term results. She offers counselling in a warm and welcoming environment.