Introvert Guide to Hosting the Family Celebration
Love em’ or hate em’, most people can’t avoid family during the holidays. But what do you do if, for the first time ever, you have been elected to host the celebration? That hasn’t happened for me yet, though I am expected to prepare most of the desserts for our family celebrations. Even so, as an introvert, hosting any type of party can be a major source of stress, and no matter how close you are to your family, playing the host can sometimes be more stressful than hosting a group of friends. There are any number of reasons for that type of stress: your family actually wants to talk and catch up and so you burn the dressing. Then there are the question stressors. You know the ones: Why aren’t you in a relationship yet? When are you going to get a real job? After a few of those stresses, you almost welcome the old grievances stressors — the seemingly benign comments like, “Remember when you broke my Polly Pocket? We were five. My therapist thinks that may be the reason I can’t trust others.” When you’re just a guest, such questions and comments can be dealt with through age old tricks, such as offering to help out in the kitchen, or rushing to greet your “favorite” aunt, who’s just arrived. When you are the host, you are expected to not only be gracious in the face of these mine fields, but to follow up your gracious host routine with a multi-course menu of amazing, innovative, and delicious holiday fare. And, you best not have messed up Aunt Ruby K’s sweet potato pie recipe, never mind that she uses a pound and a half of sugar in the filling.
Intellectually, we all know that it’s impossible to create a perfect get together, but it doesn’t hurt to plan for ways to deal with potential danger zones. If you forget to thaw the turkey, or try to pass off a boxed stuffing as real food, can’t help you with that, but hopefully, this introvert guide can help out, just a bit, with that gracious host thing.
Stage Your Flow
Although I mentioned several stresses that just to be part and parcel with family get-togethers, some of those stresses are triggered by awkward silences. Yes, a family gathering should be more low-key than one with friends, but when you have so many elements to manage, the one thing that gets forgotten is the flow of the party. What do I mean by stage your flow? Simple, when people have a clearly identified flow of activities set up and staged for them, it’s much easier to avoid slipping into conversations that are triggered by awkward silences. In other words, give your family something to do besides just talking.
Non-threatening Idle Activities
The common wisdom is to give your guest a drink when they first arrive. When we’re talking family, it might be better to give them a project. Besides it being nice to have something for everyone to do while you finish your preparations, small projects, and you can have several different projects, allowing people to gravitate to what seems of most interest to them, eliminates standing around, engaging in idle chit chat. Suffice it to say, you want to avoid any activity that would start family wars, that’s why I’ve specified non-threatening activity. If you know your family gets competitive over Monopoly, don’t bring it out, instead, have a table with a puzzle, or a family-friendly, multi-player video game (like Mario Kart Racing, or the one I’ve been playing all winter, Overcooked). Other perennial favorites include card games (Uno and Skip Bo) are also great ways to encourage engagement over idle chatter.
Food and craft activities
Another great way to get the family involved and occupied is to stage food or crafting activities. This is especially nice if you still have some things to finish up, but the family came ready to eat. A make your own custom hot chocolate, or hot apple cider station, is a fun way to get people focused on eating right when they arrive. Another fun activity is for everyone to make and decorate their own place cards for table seating, or decorate disposable table cloths.
Have a pot luck
Maybe your family already does a pot luck style dinner, but if it is your first time hosting a family celebration, doing all the cooking can seem pretty daunting; organizing who brings what seems even more so. If hosting, it’s typical to provide the mains, like turkey and dressing, or ham (both are traditional Christmas dishes in the U.S.) as this is harder to transport and keep warm. However, an easy way to coordinate who is bringing what is to go by category. Someone can do appetizers, another can do the main course, desserts, etc. In this way, it’s easiest to split tasks and not get overwhelmed with all the details. When everyone comes over, they will spend the first few minutes getting their dishes prepared and set, out instead of wandering around looking for something to do, or pestering you.
Dealing with the Pickers and the Judgers
As mentioned previously, sometimes family can be stressful, but it’s the more judgmental family members who can really grate on the holiday spirit. Family members like Uncle Joe, who is a master at cornering people and loudly talking about how much better he is at, well, everything. When he corners your dad and has to bring up that one time . . . there goes social harmony. When you’re the host, you can’t depend on someone else to step in and save the day. You have to have strategies for dealing with emotional situations like these, something that can be even worse for introverts. Emotions, Ugh! Yet, the last thing you want is for all the pickers and judgers to use their negative energy to turn the family gathering into a misery for all present. So let’s talk ways to navigate the family’s emotional vampires.
The it’s too hot, too cold, never just right
For the family member who is never satisfied, it can be hard to deal with their passive aggressive comments, or constant complaints. As the host, it feels like a major slight on your efforts, after all it’s not easy to put a celebration together. For INTJs, who use introverted feeling, such criticisms can feel like a personal attack, as you take pride in your competence, plus you are already judging the effectiveness of each and every aspect of your hosting performance, thank you very much. Look, the reality is that complainers are gonna’ complain. Some people will never be happy and can find flaws in the most perfect of moments. That means it’s up to you to manage your response, something that’s easy to say, but hard to hear. Rather than reacting with scathing comments, or defensiveness, use your unparalleled skills at logic. In other words, if the problem is easy to rectify, fix it. Of course, some things can’t be fixed. Some complainers don’t care if the problem does get fixed. When that’s the case, let the complaint stand, but don’t feed it. Instead, do what I call “convo-roto”. Acknowledge the complainers statement, “So sorry that the potatoes taste too peppery, would you like some carrots? No? You really hate carrots? And you hate corn? Well, this meal is going to be a real gobbler-fest for you. I’m glad you like turkey. Now, Aunt Maryann, you were saying that you wish you could play for the NFL? How ’bout those Vikings, ammiright?” It can be difficult to turn the conversation to other more productive topics, but it’s an effective strategy to deal with complainers, who are also grandstanders, meaning they don’t let anyone else talk. When you’re hosting the family celebration, try to have at least five “Rotater” topics ready-to-go.
Well, That’s Intrusive
There’s something about life stages that seem to invite intrusive questions. Marriage status, job status, child status . . . dealing with these questions can get repetitive fast. The real issue is that intrusive questioning can make you feel as if your life is a failure. Such questions aren’t necessarily meant to be negative. Often it’s not a conflict, but a clash of expectations, and maybe not even a clash. In truth, the questions reflect standards someone else has for your life and, therefore, don’t require your guilt, nor your defensiveness. Instead of getting defensive and using sharp words, focus on the underlying love that prompts the question. If it’s really an area of pain, or too much intrusiveness, try to deflect with humor. It’s not that I’m trying to minimize the pain and self-doubt that such questions can create internally, but real life requires that we face those moments and come out on the other side, hopefully with grace and confidence; moreover, the way you respond can plant seeds of success and confidence in your own mind (if you’re asking yourself the same questions).
That’s So political, and other taboo topics
Heated debates about taboo topics are the bane of any gathering. Sometimes, the best way to stop them is to try to divert them before they get started. If someone mentions an inflammatory topic, jump in and move the conversation in another direction. If possible, use humor to relieve the tension of certain topics. Of course, determined family members may push to get back to a tense topic. If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with a strategic reset. As the host, you can suddenly decide everyone needs a cocoa top up, or, if you have to, put your foot down and insist on a topic change.
When you’re trying to make sure you have your food ready, your settings done, and your guests entertained — all while your nieces and nephews run around in a candy cane induced sugar high; your mom keeps asking how she can help; and grandpa is just plain hangry — the idea that you should add even one more skill set to your list of overloaded requirements may seem an impossible dream; but the tips I’ve outlined above are equally important in ensuring a successful family gathering, and your own sanity. While our guide can’t trouble shoot all family holiday gathering problems, we hope it will help to relieve some of the stress associated with holiday hosting.