Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Surviving Family Functions

As my Mom and I were driving along, on our way to Thanksgiving dinner, we ended up having a surprising conversation about family Thanksgivings. I was telling her how I grew up hating Thanksgiving, that Dad and I always had a big fight because he was mad at me for taking a book along, I was meant to be interacting with the family.

I think parents forget how noisy and intimidating family events can be. I don’t know about your family, but in most families there are a few weird ducks, or maybe they get weirder when they all get together. Taking a book and finding a quiet place to read helped me survive these events. As I grew older, and got to know family members on an individual basis, quiet, one-on-one – I learned that there were several of them I actually liked a whole lot. There is one aunt who is probably my main role model, and one cousin who is one of those I would trust with my life secrets.

Mom doesn’t remember the fights, she doesn’t remember my taking a book. “Why would you?” she says in absolute incredulity. Mom never met a party she didn’t like – she is a very social being, to her very core. I still feel her hand at my back, slightly pushing me into the room with a big smile pasted on all our faces, saying “Mingle, girls, mingle!”

I love being a grown up. I love being able to say “no,” and I even love the growing grace to face situations I hate and get through them. I love meeting up with fellow introverts in other cultures and learning, that under the skin, we all face a lot of the same problems.

“Ach! Birthday parties!” exclaimed my German friend, a fellow Mac-user and graphics designer. “I would love to be you, to live somewhere else, and never have to attend another birthday party!” In my little village, where, by the grace of God, they included me in everything, I came to understand what she meant. On a person’s birthday, every woman in the village brings at least one cake, and oh man, these cakes are special. Most are loaded with cream, whipped, and imbued heavily with alcohol. Every person must take a slice of almost every cake (and my body doesn’t like all the fat in cream and rebels) and you sit for hours having the same conversation you had at the last birthday party. I was just an outsider in the village, not even a family member, and it was hard for me to say no. The force of tradition has so much weight!

My Kuwaiti friends also occasionally confide their impatience with expectations that you will show up regularly and stay – maybe at grandma’s every Friday for the mid-day meal, maybe there are a whole bunch of weddings all at once and you end up attending several nights in a row and feeling like something the cat dragged in the next day . . . I think every culture has these expectations, and every culture has those who thrive in a social environment and those who – like me – don’t.

Oh, if you saw me now, you would THINK I am in my element. I have learned how to fake it! My social Mother’s training has paid off; I LOOK fluent in social events. Underneath, however, I am the same old person who does best one-on-one.

AOL Healthy Living (you can read it HERE has published a list of tactics for surviving the inevitable family / group functions you can’t avoid.

1. Expectations
Holidays are all about expectations. Will mom love my gift? I hope we do a group sing-along. You want the holidays to be perfect, but cut down the fantasy. Instead, think about what you want to get out of it all — relaxed Thanksgiving with your in-laws or a New Year’s Eve that doesn’t end with a hangover.

2. Arrive Late, Leave Early
The traditional seven hour marathon — drinks, dinner, presents, television — is too much “together time” for most families. Shortening the party can make a dramatic difference. And if you’re in for a sleepover, take breaks from the crowd. It’s as simple as walking around the block or crawling into bed early with a good book.

3. Don’t Drink too much
Many people use the holiday as an excuse to eat, drink and be merry to excess. Rarely a good idea around family. Alcohol, in fact, can be a real serious problem in a lot of households. When the drinking gets out of hand, all the old animosities come out to play, and hostile, regrettable or embarrassing things are said — or worse.

4. Presents
You spend hours selecting the perfect present for your sister and she hands you … a candle. And a re-gift at that. Newsflash: Not everyone’s as thoughtful as you are. The best solution here is to discuss gift-giving — how much to spend, what you’d like — with her and the rest of the clan beforehand.

5. Don’t Get Sucked into the Craziness
Holidays can cause otherwise sane adults to revert to their worst childhood selves. And that’s not accounting for dad’s sarcasm and mom’s incessant pleading. If you find yourself falling into the same old roles, do (or say) something to derail that train. Don’t get sucked into the craziness again.

6. Focus on the NOW
Your big bro was mom’s favorite. Okay, but after 30-odd years, that’s not going to change. Focus on the now. You’ll have a much better time if you practice forgiveness and try to accept family members as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations.

7. Seek Out Those You Love
Your relatives spend the holidays in the mall. That’s not for you. Rather than sulk, seek out the people you really love and miss, and ask them for a little face time. Also, urge your host to set smaller tables so you could sit with your favorite cousin without listening to your uncle bluster on all night.

8. Things Won’t be Perfect
Don’t deny it: You’re thinking you have to be an ideal daughter in-law and hostess; make the consummate green bean casserole and buy the best gifts. Not gonna happen. Stop trying to be perfect and comparing yourself to others, and realize that all you can do is try your best.

9. Focus on the Positive
In the end, think about exactly what you’re celebrating here. Joy. Caring. Sharing. Think about your family gatherings as if you were in church, synagogue or a mosque. You wouldn’t be bickering with or judging others, right? Okay, maybe you would. But let’s keep that on the DL — at least while you’re all together.

And I would add one more – 10. If you are one of the more social types who LOVE family gatherings, have a little pity on the introverts, who find large gatherings a little overwhelming! Try to get a little one-on-one time with them, try to have some opportunities for quiet conversations.

December 9, 2007 - Posted by | Christmas, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Eid, Events, Family Issues, Generational


  1. “and every culture has those who thrive in a social environment and those who – like me – don’t.”

    I knew we had something else alike 😉

    Comment by rainmountain | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. “and every culture has those who thrive in a social environment and those who – like me – don’t.”

    I knew we had something else alike 😉

    I’m not an introvert, but I hate big gatherings, especially if they are a must and someone expects a lot from me.

    I’m just glad, we don’t have a big family (well, we do, but I don’t know most of them) and no such forced meetings 😉

    Comment by rainmountain | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. My mom must have remembered, because I was _always_ allowed to bring a book, even when the relatives (the other side) complained. I liked being _around_ family – I usually read in the same room as the crowd – but not being 100% locked into the conversation.

    We are a bunch of weirdos, though – I’m not sure a book is always enough to keep the wacky factor at bay 🙂

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. Rainmountain – maybe it is partly our rebellious nature, not wanting to be told what to do!

    Little Diamond – and getting wackier by the day!

    Comment by intlxpatr | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. OMG my mother is the ultimate social person, she can mingle with anyone, whether she spoke their language or not. She always expects me to be like her but I’m not. Ppl are surprised to know I’m her daughter. It used to kill me before, but now I’m over that 😛

    Comment by Chirp | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  6. My friend–I have not been subjected to the large family holidays because, being a military brat, we were never around. I do remember some family reunions, tho, when I hid in the closet because there were too many people I almost never saw. The funny part is I had one cousin, my age, who was always in the closet first, or showed up there shortly after me. We always had a fabulous time for about an hour, just the two of us, before we got brave enough to join the others. It became a family joke of sorts. But I also either had a book or found one in those crowd situations and carved out my space. I have adjusted to large crowds, but given the option, I’m with you–one on one or a small group of up to 4 is the best.

    Comment by momcat | December 9, 2007 | Reply

  7. Chirp – if we are very lucky, we learn the social skills, especially if we have social moms, and we can pass for social, at least for a short time! I think those who are social have a very difficult time understanding why anyone would be otherwise!

    Momcat – meet me in the closet! Bring a good book!

    Comment by intlxpatr | December 10, 2007 | Reply

  8. […] husband can’t stand my family and always puts me in the middle of guilt trips any time a family function comes […]

    Pingback by Dear Fayza: My husband hates my family. Can I get him to man up? « FAYZANATION | August 28, 2012 | Reply

  9. […] husband can’t stand my family and always puts me in the middle of guilt trips any time a family function comes […]

    Pingback by Dear Fayza: My husband hates my family. Can I get him to man up? – OLD NEWS | March 6, 2021 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: