Home for the holidays

Communication tips for a successful season

Going home for the holidays can be…complicated. You love your family. You really do. It’s going to be great to see them, but there will be issues. There will always be issues because families are stressful. Fortunately, successfully navigating nine years of holiday visits to see my family has made me something of an expert. So much of an expert, in fact, I’m going to compare my coping strategies to those from the National Communication Association and let you pick mine based on their clear superiority.

Advice From the NCA: Experts suggest de-emphasizing the material aspects of the season. Don’t worry so much about finding that perfect gift; it’s the thought that counts. If you can’t afford gifts, that’s nothing to be ashamed of either.

Advice from me: Everything is a competition. Life is a competition. He who dies with the best toys wins and he who gives away the best toys is an even bigger winner. Shower your family in obscene generosity. You’ll be in debt after college anyway, so why not max out a credit card for the sheer purpose of gift-giving? Make your loved ones feel inadequate for not buying you gifts nearly as good as the ones you buy them. That is the true spirit of the holiday.

Advice from the NCA: Be sensitive about needs for private space. The house is going to be cluttered. People are going to be stressed. There will be long drives. There are going to be personal conflicts. It’s a very emotional time of year. Be mindful of the people around you. They might need their own space, so be willing to give it to them.

Advice from me: Space is important—be sure to give them as much space as humanly possible. In fact, avoid making eye contact altogether if you can. Don’t hug anyone unless you absolutely have to. Spend most of your day hiding in whatever hotel, guest bedroom or couch you wind up crashing on for the entire season. Above all else, hide behind your phone.

Advice from the NCA: Set differences aside for the holidays. You love these people. Focus on what you have in common. Yes, you’ll have your gripes and your differences, but it’s the holidays. You didn’t come all this way just to fight.

Advice from me: Okay but did you vote, Amber? Did you?

Advice from the NCA: Create new family rituals. You might be bringing a friend or partner your family hasn’t met before. They might have their own traditions and expectations, and that can lead to stress. In addition, your family hasn’t been stagnant since you’ve been gone. They might have their own new people. They might have new traditions they want to try. Be open to new things.

Advice from me: Create nothing but new rituals. Throw a tantrum if somebody suggests you watch the Rankin/Bass Christmas movies. If someone offers you eggnog, insist they mix it with Kahlua. Also if you’ve never tried the adult ritual of going to bed at a decent hour on New Year’s Eve, do so. It’s very liberating.

Advice from the NCA: Acknowledge your own needs and limitations. You’re only human. There’s only so much you can do. You’re going to have your grievances with your family. You may have even dealt with situations that might make you sad, such as the loss of a loved one, since last holiday season. There are going to be problems you can’t ignore, and that’s okay. You don’t need to feel guilty about that. It is okay to not be doing okay.

Advice from me: Don’t you know you are letting everybody down? Limitations are for the weak. You are a complete failure as a family member if you give them anything less than 100 percent effort and enthusiasm at all times. In fact, if you so much as sleep late during the holidays, you lose. It is on you and you alone to ensure everyone has the best holiday ever, for you are the guardian of holiday joy and all shall fall before your might.

Now that I have undoubtedly convinced you my advice is superior, one last bit of advice from me: It’s going to be okay. Trips home can be rough, but it’s your family. You love these people. These are the people you actively make plans to visit even though you know it will be stressful. You have probably missed them. Yes, there are going to be elements of returning home that are awful. There may even be full-blown fights, but at the end of the day, this is your family. Enjoy your trip home and happy holidays.