Comedian George Burns once said “Happiness is having a warm, caring, closely- knit family in another city.”
It’s just so easy to get along when you are not in the proximity of your parents, in-laws, married siblings and their children or extended in-law family. It’s when you spend hours together on Yom Tov that things can begin to get sticky. But with some forethought, planning, and these tips, your family get-together this year can be smooth and memorable.
- Expectations should be clearly stated: Much planning goes into each Yom Tov meal, where to place everybody and how to entertain the children. Each family has different preferences, planning styles, food menus, and of course, expectations. This tip is helpful for whoever is hosting and planning the Yom Tov meals and accommodations. Tell each child, guest, or family exactly what you expect them to contribute or would like for them to bring along (or leave at home— like that loud drum their toddler was busy banging last year). If all are told what is expected of them in advance, many misunderstandings and aggravation can be avoided. Of course, if expectations are not met, do your best to stay positive and just let things go.
- Communicate respectfully and openly. It’s okay to tell your sister that you don’t appreciate that she lectured/punished your kid—as long as you are smiling and respectful. You don’t have to feel bad asking your brother or sister to watch your kids if they are staying up one afternoon and you are desperately tired. You’d be amazed at how interested and helpful most of your extended family really is. Instead of hinting, nagging, or just being annoyed, be direct and honest. While that doesn’t mean you have to tell your family everything you are thinking about them, it is advisable to keep the lines of communication open. Keep away from expressing negativity, sarcasm, or any nasty comments you may be thinking (like when your nephew sweeps the cream off your dessert with his fingers).
- Accept and Forgive. Before you walk through the door, work on eliminating past grievances against any of your family members. Make a conscious effort! Holding grudges is bound to make Yom Tov a miserable experience. Remember it’s 100% normal that every parent has her own parenting style, every child has his/her own level of self-control, and every family has its own minhagim. Don’t try to convince those at the table that your way of doing things is best. This leads to the next thing:
- Respect. You may not agree with your sister’s parenting methods, but you need to respect her as a person and parent. NEVER argue with a brother, sister, brother-in-law, or sister- in-law about their parenting abilities or lack thereof in front of their children. NEVER grimace or show any disrespect for your family member’s minhagim or lack of it. That is certain to get you into an argument or brawl that may turn unforgivable.
- Be flexible and ready to sacrifice. So the meal turned out longer than you expected and your kids got rowdy? That is bound to happen when 25 people sit around the table! Your dessert wasn’t served because everyone was full? Don’t be insulted. Serve it the next day. Your sister-in-law has no room for all her children in her bedroom? Offer to take one into your kids’ room if you can! If you can exhibit calmness, flexibility, and a willingness to please all your family members, they will come that extra mile too. People relax when they feel their best interest is being kept in mind.
Most people don’t think of this during the hectic pre-Yom Tov preparation. Prepare your children. Have many conversations with them: at the dinner table, while you travel and before bedtime. Tell them what is expected of them, what to do if they get into a fight with their cousins, what never to do at Grandma’s house and how to behave properly at a table full of guests. Many embarrassing scenarios (i.e. my little sister saying” Ugh! The soup has too much salt in it!”) could be avoided if children are properly prompted and prepared. Role play, story tell and have the kids ask questions about anything that may be unclear to them.
Written By: Nissi Unger