Let the Chaos Ensue: Rules for Surviving Family Gatherings

If your family is anything like my in-laws, you know what I am talking about. There are eight grown children, seven of which are married. There are 14 children running around, five of whom are under two years of age–give or take a few.

When you first walk into the chaos, your senses are assaulted with sounds of conversations, smells of food and goodies, and an extreme lack of spare space. Forget setting your belongings anywhere, that just adds to the confusion. Imagine if all 25 people set their keys on the table, hilarious! Keep them where you are sleeping or in your car, if you are sleeping out in the tent. But it is a good thing.

To be in this chaotic moment is to belong. But like every group that you try to fit in to, there are rules to assist you. I come from a small family with only two kids. We didn’t get together with extended family very often. While my family knows how to enjoy each other’s presence, the sheer lack of numbers eliminates the craziness that happens at my in-laws’ gatherings. I have brought my family with me a few times. Maybe next time I will give my parents these handy suggestions for survival. Each one is hard learned at my expense and my in-laws’ vast patience.

1. First and foremost, don’t take things personally. This rule is a big one. If the group sees you cry, then they can sense your pending break down and push you over the edge. The weak link is attacked from all sides, even the supportive spouse that brought you into this craziness. You must force yourself to stay serene or calm at the very least. If being at peace is impossible avoid games like Mow. That game is pure evil for a noob.

2. Rule number two may offend some… there is always one unpleasant person in the group. If you haven’t figured out who it is, chances are that the person is you. I have been that one, especially when I am exhausted from traveling and my children are on the brink of a meltdown and a kind soul has the audacity to ask, “Do you need help?” Only to have their gentle head bit off with a snazzy retort like, “Ya think?” Lighten up, smile, and hold a baby. They are family and should love you in the morning.

3. Jump in. Play a game, join a conversation, ask questions, or help with dishes. If your family is like ours, there are 15 conversations going on around the table at once. Just pick one. Ask to have a statement restated so that you can participate. If you like a good debate, find one person that can handle it. I still take arguments too personally, so I don’t do this. But try not to have every conversation come back to you (i.e. Oh I did the same thing but…). If there are 50 plates in the sink that need to fit somehow into the dishwasher, put your Tetris skills to work.

4. Remember that everybody cheats. They’re just better at it than you, probably from years of practice. I have found that even the game declared cheat free is not free from creative rule interpretation or reinvention. Either catch them at it or join in. But don’t get caught. You can always make up a new twist on an old game. Ultimate Rumikub is a family favorite.

5. When all else fails, bring food. Everyone enjoys snacks our treats, even the one person that glares at you for any wrong you commit can be won over with food. I bring a variety of Christmas cookies. I love baking and know the cookies are appreciated. Plus it gives my children wonderful family memories of baking, decorating, and cookie dough. If cookies aren’t your thing, find something like a veggie tray or bag of chips. Chips are wonderful during late night games when everyone just wants to munch but not leave the table to fix something. What you bring doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you thought about the group. It is the thought that wins you points.

6. No matter what, be yourself. The family needs to know who you are in order to truly love you. You will find your niche or role in the group only by being yourself. Besides, you can’t keep up a pretense for very long. Eventually your flaws, habits, and real likes and dislikes will be discovered and exploited. But you will learn to do the same to the others in the group, especially the new comers as they join the family.

7. Finally, take a deep breath. Family gatherings, be it for holidays or vacations, can challenge even the most perfect of us. We all need to take a cleansing breath once in a while and refocus on the reason we are together. Enjoy!

I know Christmas is over, but a new year is just beginning. There will be tons of opportunities for family gatherings and you can use these suggestions for your New Year Resolutions.


“I, insert name, resolve to join in the chaos and be a contributing member to the insanity that ensues.”

By Trulybst

Pursuing life to its fullest. A woman, a mom, wife, and struggling teacher who knows the importance of treating myself right.

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