Who can resist the joys of an Easter (or Passover) meal?  For those adhering to the strictness of Lent, it’s the feast to celebrate the culmination of the season.  It’s also the first opportunity for many families, scattered hither and thither to gather together since Christmas .   It’s a gathering sharing not only food, but to celebrate the love and connection of important souls in our lives

We imagine a delicious meal, thoughtful conversations, and supportive interactions.

For others, the thought of spending part of the holidays with kinfolk equals the prospect of getting a root canal.  A family gathering means withstanding  your mother’s observations about your weight, your Aunt Matilda’s comments about your clothes, and your brother-in-law’s attempt to goad you into an argument about politics.  Family gatherings like these steer away from the joy of the season and propel you into feeling like you’re entering the fencing arena – but without the masks, protective gear and gentlemanly rules!

So, before you pack your Hot Cross Buns, Deviled Eggs and Easter Baskets in the car – and potentially feel the need to arm yourself with foil or saber, consider these tips to turn the fencing arena back into the dining room.

Don’t Grab a Sabre

When people say rude or mean things, it’s tempting to snap back.  Sure, it might make you feel better in the moment, but in the long run (especially if, like me, you have people-pleasing tendencies) you’ll end up using beating up on yourself. Insecurities and fears make many people do less-than-nice things.  Before you pick up your sword, take this knowledge to heart:  it’s often not personal. You simple trigger a negative response because of their past interactions with other people. If you step back and apply compassion and empathy to the situation, you can re-frame this person in your mind, and keep your boxing gloves off.

You Aren’t The Referee

Are you putting yourself in the middle of the ring, evaluating and judging everything you say, do, wear or eat?  Sometimes, the words of our inner critic – our inner judge, really – are worse than anything others might say. This is why an innocent comment from Uncle Jim about the carrot cake makes you believe that he’s calling you fat.  Make  peace with yourself and if you haven’t yet, sign a Peace Agreement post haste).  When you release your inner critic, when you unzip those judge’s robes,  you can enjoy the holiday banter.

There’s No Paparazzi at Easter Dinner

Some people escape the content of their own lives by obsessing about others.  I always bring to mind the words of Byron Katie’s thoughts on business: “There are three kinds of business: yours, theirs and God’s.”  What other people think of us is their business. There is nothing we can do to change others.  The only control we have is to make decisions for ourselves:  that’s our business and no one else’s.  People will talk about you and may even say nasty things about you.  They will comment on your clothes, your weight, your choice of friends or love interest.  They will judge you, because they are too afraid to look within themselves.  Release the worry of their business. Create your own rules and cultivate a life of your choosing. Remember that you are the only one who lives inside your skin, lives your daily life, and faces yourself in the mirror each day.  If you are living true to what is best for you, then that’s all that matters.

You Are Not a Sports Commentator

If you find yourself mentally picking apart another’s words, just waiting for the chance to cross-examine them, STOP.  Now, ask whose business you’re in.  And if you find yourself focusing on someone else’s behaviors, like the tightness of their jeans or their third helping of stuffing, check what part of your own business you’re avoiding. Observe your own resistance, offer yourself some sympathy, then commit to dealing with what you can change: your stuff. Better yet, enlist your partner, sibling, or trusted family member. Tell him about the difficulty or scariness of your business. He’ll probably listen and maybe offer help—and presto! Your need to get into his business will be replaced by increased love and gratitude.  Besides, a little vulnerability goes a long way in building and strengthening relationships.

Head to the Concession Stand

Sometimes, events do become tense and uncomfortable.  You may be tempted to become small and quiet, like a mouse, bearing witness to the unpleasantness around you.  But you have another option. If you sense that family members are picking up their swords, then head for to the concession stand. Remove yourself from the situation by offering to help with the dishes, excusing yourself to the restroom, or just taking a walk. You have the right to honor yourself and your needs. Alternatively, put your wits to good use. There’s nothing wrong with trying to turn the conversation to another subject or injecting a humorous change.  Stepping out of the family politics and drama can lead to others following your example.

Don’t Attend The Tournament

And now for some flat-out honesty:  if the thought of spending time with your family makes you ill, then stay home. You don’t have to submit to being emotionally or verbally abused.   The world is full of unhappy people and sometimes, these people are family members.  You have a right to enjoy the holidays, just like you have the right to be happy. Don’t make a rash decision, of course. Life is short.   Do a little meditation and listen to what your heart tells you.    And if your heart tells you it wants to go, then by all means spend some time with your family.  Just remember these tips for dealing with ‘em.  (And don’t hesitate to shorten the length of your trip and/or stay in a hotel!)

No matter what the spring holiday brings, focus on the positive aspects of those around you instead of their negative traits.  As crazy as they may make you feel, they are still your family.  And deep down, you love them. 

Keep in your business. 

Don’t take things personally.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t help, support, and encourage those you love. It’s simply a reminder not to get involved with trying to change your family.  You only have the power to change yourself.

What ideas to you have to keep your cool and keep from fencing during spring family gatherings?