Keep the peace

Happy families – it takes a lot of effort to keep things running smoothly, especially when catering for so many tastes

Happy families – it takes a lot of effort to keep things running smoothly, especially when catering for so many tastes

First published in What's On

Brace yourself for a flurry of reports warning of a post-Christmas spike in divorce figures.

It seems that while it’s supposed to be the season of goodwill, in fact it’s a time when family tension hits a peak.

It’s not really surprising, given the unnaturally long amount of time we spend away from our usual routine, and given the likelihood that households will be straining under the demands of extra bodies to house and feed as relatives descend en mass for their annual visit.

So what can you do to ensure that things flow smoothly and that everybody waves goodbye with a smile on their faces rather than sighing with relief that it’s all over for another year? Here are ten tips to keep things ticking over calmly.

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Chuck everybody outside Take every opportunity to get the lot out of the house and out from under each others’ feet. With Christmas falling on a Friday there is the potential for the house being full for a lengthy period, with people arriving on the Thursday and staying till the following Monday, stretching the weekend to a patience-testing five days. Plan walks and outings throughout, so that everyone has some fresh air, shakes off the cobwebs and has an opportunity to let off steam out in the open rather than in your living room. If you stay behind to straighten things up, fling wide the windows to air the rooms and have a blitz on any clutter building up.

TV timetable

If you have a house full of telly addicts devise a way of allocating points to everyone and have them ‘buy’ viewing times. It’s good fun and it means that if there’s a soap on that only one person wants to watch, they can still watch it without causing friction. If programmes clash you can say that the person whose programme is chosen has to give extra points to other members of the family, to be used later.

Jobs for the boys

Make sure everyone is aware that they must pull their weight. The burden of cooking, cleaning, entertaining and generally keeping things ticking over should not fall on one particular person’s shoulders. Spread the chores around and don’t be afraid to have a chart on display to ensure people know who’s doing what, and when.

Funds for fun

Agree a budget and stick to it. It’s tempting to do things on the spur of the moment, but a trip to the cinema for a dozen people will add a huge amount of money to the credit card bill in January, so while it will have seemed like a good way of providing some entertainment you will pay dearly for it in the long run. Similarly, if someone arrives and expresses a certain desire for a particular type of beer or a special type of tea bag, don’t rush out and cater to their whim. You will no doubt have made generous provision for their visit, so they should in turn respect your hospitality and take what’s offered.

Look ahead

Recognise potential areas of conflict and get a strategy in place beforehand. If, for example, you know that your father-in-law or old uncle will drive you mad with incessant, tuneless whistling while going about their business first thing in the morning before everyone else is up, find something else to take your mind off it. Download a favourite radio show to your mp3 player and pop your headphones on, or pop the radio on and discover a new channel to enjoy.

Rest your weary head

Make sure everyone has plenty of sleep and down time. Tired people make stressful people, so don’t ignore the need for rest. Chances are everyone will have stayed up late on Christmas Eve and been up early on Christmas Day, so don’t be afraid to send people off to their rooms for a power nap, so you can put your feet up too and replenish your own energy levels.

Keep the noise down

With new toys, computer games, TV programmes and multiple conversations going on it can all simply get too much. So make a conscious effort to monitor what’s going on in each room and if you sense a build-up of conflicting sounds diplomatically direct people to alternative rooms for their activities in order to spread everyone about the house.

Don’t overdo the drinks

It’s all very well having a little aperitif before dinner, followed by champagne to toast the arrival of the turkey, wine with the meal and then a nice drop of port ‘to settle the stomach’ but prolonged drinking spread throughout the day will take its toll. No need to be stingy, but by the same token ensure that nobody drinks to excess. If tongues are loosened too much things might be said to cause offence, and embarrassing things can happen when inhibitions are completely thrown off by the extra alcohol.

We’re in charge

As hosts you should make it clear that big decisions will be taken by you and that these should be respected. You will naturally take people’s needs and expectations into account but ultimately you are in charge. If two or three people start chipping in with observations about timings of meals, sleeping or bathroom arrangements, or the hundred and one other things that will be going on over the course of this marathon get-together, then it’s a sure recipe for disaster. Present a united front with your partner in the face of all challenges.

No talking about each other behind back

Make it clear that there will be no secret huddles where other people’s behaviour will be discussed in the kitchen or outside the back door. If something is being said about someone else that they shouldn’t hear, then it’s probably better not to be said in the first place. So if one of the family starts talking to you in derogatory terms about another cut them short and politely change the subject.

Little and often

If things really get too much this Christmas make a mental note to do things differently next year. Maybe short visits through the year rather than one big get-together at Christmas would work better. And if you really can’t avoid having everyone over for some festive fun limit it to two nights at the most. Long enough to be enjoyable, but short enough to be bearable.

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