Vacations and holidays can be wonderful, but they can also mean you’re forced to spend time with family members and friends where you don’t feel the most comfortable. You might be headed to a barbeque with intense family friends or going to spend a week at the in-laws that the kids don’t know very well. It’s unlikely these will ever be your favorite moments, but as a mom of an introverted teenager with massive teenage opinions, I’ve developed a few strategies for smoothing over some of the rough spots. Here are five ways I use to make awkward visits a little less painful.
Manage Kid Expectations
I always attempt to be excessively clear with my kids about what will happen, who will be there, how long it will take, and any other information I can think of. They do much better with a warning that the offensive neighbor or the overly “huggy” great aunt will be there.
I’m also very clear about what I expect from them. Something like, “You do not need to hug everyone but you need to find a polite way to acknowledge them and say hello or goodbye. This includes removing any headphones, making eye contact, and speaking clearly.” Which leads to another typical issue, electronics. We discuss and establish ahead of time when is okay to have stuff in your ears or be looking at a screen, and when you need to at least pretend to be a part of the group.
Manage Adult Expectations
Last year, we took a trip that brought us in contact with relatives that had never met my kids. I felt very anxious about how this gregarious and “touchy-feely” group would react to my daughter who is about the opposite. Then, I remember the descriptions her therapist had used at the beginning of our sessions. I explained to our relatives what the therapist had said which made them much more flexible in their interactions with my daughter. More importantly, it took a lot of the pressure off of me. A less tense mom automatically made things easier. Now, any time I have the opportunity to set others expectations, even if it’s just about the kids being picky eaters, I grab it!
Prepare Responses Ahead of Time
Uncomfortable moments are inevitable, so it’s helpful to establish what your kids should do ahead of time. For example, I frequently tell my teenager that unless she is able to engage in a meaningful and respectful conversation with a person rather than snide retorts, she needs to ignore political or offensive comments. If necessary, she is allowed to walk away. This is helped by the fact that she knows I will usually address the comment anyway, but without the added intensity that comes from being young and passionate.
Find Ways Around Complications You Know Will Come Up
Every situation has its own set of quirks, so only you know what might come up at a gathering. If your kids won’t like the food served, offer to bring a dish or cook for the kids. If the adults like to sit around and talk while the kids get bored, bring an activity to suggest for the kids to do in the meantime. If one person always plays something inflammatory on TV, bring a video or slideshow to play instead. You can’t always predict what is going to come up, but you can find ways to smooth over some of the complications
A tense mom can leak the tension to her kids. As hard as it can be, do what you can to keep yourself relaxed. Chances are, you’re not very close to these people or they are in your life regardless of what happens. You just have to get through the event.