by Hayley Doyle
Christmas is just around the corner.
So, hurrah! Let’s welcome the in-laws.
But wait. You haven’t prepped yet? Oh, it’ll be fine, you say. Yeah, they’re “not my kind of
people, but they’re family,” you hear yourself chanting year in, year out. But you always breathe a
sigh of relief when you wave each other off, right? Then spend the next 11 months viewing the visit
through rose-tinted spectacles. Sure, you don’t share the same political views as Uncle X and Aunty
Y, but they nailed it on the kids presents front. All those disapproving huffs and puffs from your
MIL wasn’t that bad, in hindsight; she did compliment your cheeseboard, sorta. And your partner
got on with your father like a house on fire, thank goodness until your father fell asleep and
knocked over the cranberry crush scented candle and almost did set the house on fire. You’ve
pushed all of this tension and anxiety to the back of your mind until, bam! It’s time for turkey again.
The vibe at Christmas is quite different to other family occasions because you’re not just
going out to a restaurant for a couple of hours. Either you’re hosting or being hosted, and both
camps can be naughty and nice. While it’s full-on having guests come to stay, with all the cooking
and cleaning, you perhaps get to keep hold of some control. And if it’s your turn to sit back and go
with the flow, you might be forced into a flow you find pretty rocky rather than plain sailing.
Mentally - and physically - getting ready for the big reunion is key to having festive family
fun. It shouldn’t be disregarded because you’re too busy to think about it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful
to enjoy the time with your in-laws rather than be reminded of why you don’t choose to see them
more often throughout the year? So don’t dread it. Just prepare. Relationship therapist and author,
Terri Orbuch, says, “It’s helpful to remember that your in-laws are the people who raised the person
you love. There’s a profound connection between them, even if it’s difficult and challenging for you.” So with this in mind, here are some simple ways to set those all-important seasonal
You can have bubbles for breakfast and your preferred grape with every meal. Yep. That includes
the seventh helping of camembert. This is a holiday, so you’re allowed to indulge. Keep yourself
topped up throughout the day with your favourite treat, whether that’s a cocktail or a mocktail.
You’ll be relaxed, hydrated and might even pluck up the courage to ask the in-laws to babysit for a
couple of hours so you can squeeze in a festive date night.
Literally! While this is the time of year to veg out in your PJs watching Hallmark movies and old
episodes of Only Fools and Horses, there will come a moment when you cannot face another salted
cashew nut. Most people hang on until January to start a health-kick, but why wait? Put your
trainers on and nip out for 30 minutes. It will clear your head and give your heart some much-
needed TLC. Then the salted cashews might look more appealing the next time your mother-in-law
offers you the bowl. You might even get a pat on the back for being a positive influence!
Roll the Dice
Games might be a bit of a divider; those who play and those who don’t. But why should everybody
be forced into Cards for Humanity or a lengthy round of Trivial Pursuit? You could even set out a
big jigsaw for anybody who wants a bit of quiet time. Accept that the non-gamers will want to just
watch TV or have a nap, and get a game going regardless for anybody who’s up for it. People find it
hard to resist shouting out the correct answer or taking a wild guess. So take a chance and play. It
might just be the thing that brings the whole family together!
Ignore Social Media
It’s no secret that social media is riddled with smoke and mirrors. For every photo you scroll past of
a family smiling from ear to ear around the table, raising a class and wearing paper hats, there are a
thousand arguments, unkind words, awkward situations, sad stories and burnt roasties out of shot.
So try to ignore the pressure of creating your own picture perfect festivity. Focus on what’s going
on in the moment and make the most of what’s there, in real life. Don’t compare your situation with
one that you can only ever presume is better than your own. One person’s snapshot should never
ruin your reality.
A few simple touches will transform your guest room into a mini retreat; a small kettle, tea bags,
biscuits, magazines, scented candles, essential toiletries and a bottle of fizz. Your in-laws won’t
want to leave the sweet haven you’ve created for them, and they’ll be itching to get back there at
the end of the day. If you’re staying with family, make sure you take your own little luxuries so that
you can escape to pamper yourself if needs be. Even a good book and your favourite herbal tea bag
is a good way to have an hour to yourself to refresh and re-enter (like a queen…).
Ready, Steady, Go…
Set time limits. Agree on an arrival time and a departure time in an open, friendly conversation so
that everybody knows where each other stands. Dragging out the day in fear of offending somebody
is only going to cause tension. State clearly what you can and cannot do. And don’t go and stay
with family for the whole week between Christmas and New Year. You’ll get cabin fever and resent
being there, under the control of somebody else’s house rules. Isn’t it better to stay a short time and
be a little bit sad to leave, than outstay your welcome and pray you never return?
Dish Out Jobs
Never mind handing out the mince pies. Give your guests a job and that should keep them happy!
Everybody likes to feel at home in somebody else’s house and having a reason to be there is a great
start. Making sure you don’t run out of ice is a decent little chore. Or helping your kid with their
new Lego set. Maybe somebody enjoys chopping spuds while another has a strange love for loading
up the dishwasher. Remember to keep the jobs small, so if there is any cringeworthy backlash, you
can just grit your teeth and get the damn things done yourself.
It’s okay to be tired! Think about how often Uncle X falls asleep in broad daylight, snoring his head
off in the company of yours truly. You could feign a headache, grabbing the chance to go for a lie
down (with your laptop and Netflix, obvs), but it’s also completely reasonable to admit that you’re
knackered. Christmas yanks us all out of our routines, throwing us into overwhelming situations
with overexcited children and overindulged bellies! Maybe you just need to conk out with the kids.
And what if you’re breastfeeding? Use this as the perfect excuse to have some downtime away from
everybody except your little one.
Your neighbours house to borrow an electric whisk… and stay for a cuppa. Drive over to your
friends to drop off their presents and conveniently exchange family stories over a slice of chocolate
yule log. Announce you’re going for a walk and invite anybody to join you because let’s face it, it’s
always better out than in, right?
Keep It Real
On the expectations front. It’s only going to bring you disappointment if you expect your in-laws to
play by your rules this year. They’re not bad people (most of them, anyway…), they’re just wired
differently to you. So don’t expect them to behave in ways that you prefer because you’ll end up
locking yourself in the loo with your phone and willing the festive season to be over before the
Yorkshire puddings have even risen. Chat to your partner before you all come together and remind
each other what is likely to happen, then, work through the above list…
And if all else fails, well, just don’t invite them.