How to Keep Your Cool During Family Gatherings: A Guide for the Childfree

How to Keep Your Cool During Family Gatherings: A Guide for the Childfree

Many of you will be spending time in close quarters with your families this week. I’m going to put it out there now: I am notoriously bad at family gatherings. This post may be more about my own catharsis than anything—I am one of those selfish millennials after all 😉 Anyway, if you were looking for an expert in family ties, I’m sorry to disappoint. Don’t run away just yet though. From screwing up family dinners so often, I have learned some valuable lessons. Here’s how to keep your cool during family gatherings: a guide for the childfree.

Problem: Your Family Pushes Your Buttons

Parents are great at knowing which buttons to push because they installed them, or so the old adage goes. I don’t fault this logic. I’m a believer of Meyers-Briggs personality types and, as it turns out, my mother and I are both ISFJs. What does sharing the same personality type? It means we get along swimmingly, right? Well, sometimes, yes and other times, no.

According to personalitygrowth.com, “they [ISFJs] can both become stubborn and may clash with each other over which direction to take.” As the ‘I’ in ‘ISFJ’ signifies, I am an introvert. Not only that, but I’m an introvert with anxiety—meaning I could live the hermit life without giving it so much as a second thought. Crowds—even when those crowds contain only family members—aren’t my cup of tea. Lots of talking, lots of clashing personalities, and lots of button-pushing generally ensues.

However, I am very fortunate to have parents who are understanding of my decision not to have children but I know that’s not the case for everyone. While I was at the gym the other day (workin’ on my fitness), one of the local News stations ran a list of taboo topics for Thanksgiving. Can you guess what one of the subjects was? Pestering adult children for grandchildren. Despite advising viewers not to do this, surely people will.

And, what if they do?

Solution: Control What Those Buttons Do When Pushed

We all have our own particular triggers. Some of us do a better job of hiding our reactions to those triggers than others. When people—yes, family—push my buttons, I’ve decided it would behoove me to alter my response. I’m not advising you to ‘grin and bear it’ but if someone is rude to you, you have to weigh the pros and cons of responding. And, unfortunately, that’s something you have to do very quickly in social settings.

That being said, why not prepare in advance how you’re going to react if a family member pushes your buttons? If your nosy cousin always asks when you’re going to finally have a baby, don’t get caught off guard this time. Come up with a short, succinct answer and let that be the one you use with anyone who tries to push your buttons about baby-making.

Problem: Your Family Disrespects You And/Or Your Choices

Not everyone views the decision to be childfree as the wonderful thing that it is. Grandparents are especially perplexed when their adult grandchildren refuse to give them great-grandchildren. This is often, for the most part, a generational difference—especially if your grandparents are of the Silent Generation, a time when many felt it best to conform to social norms. Put so many different generations in one room and you’re bound to have some disagreements.

Having differing opinions is great. Being disrespected for your differing opinion, on the other hand, is not so great. So, what can you do if Grandma starts lamenting how a woman’s job is at home caring for her babies? Well, for one, resist the urge to fling mashed potatoes.

Solution: Kill ‘Em With Kindness

If you get irate with Grandma and start yelling all your reasons for being childfree, is she going to listen? Most likely not. Even if you calmly try to explain your stance, even if you back up your points with statistics, she might not get it. After you use all your breath trying to explain yourself, she might just chalk up your ‘attitude’ to your generation.

So, hey, why not do the same? When Grandma—or any other family member for that matter—starts in on you for your decision to not have children, just be thankful your generation affords you the choice. Even though we still have a long way to go to beat the stigma behind childlessness, we are certainly better off than generations prior. Smile knowing what you know and hold back your retorts, even if they’re “good” ones.

If the family member isn’t getting a reaction from you, they may simply stop trying.

-Mara Banar, “How to Deal With Rude and Insulting Relatives

Problem: Children, Children Everywhere

You may love kids or you may very well not. Even as someone who really enjoys little ones, I can remember how loud my niece and nephew were at the dinner table when they were younger. Thankfully, they are teenagers now and I no longer have to play I Spy for hours on end. I mean, unless I want to. The thing is: kids can be draining, especially for someone who isn’t used to spending extended time with them. So, what should you do?

Solution: Entertain Them

Now if you’re thinking But I hate entertaining kids! don’t fret. Entertained kids are, generally speaking, good kids. Bored kids are a completely different species. And, you don’t actually have to be all that involved to entertain kids. Give your young nieces, nephews, second cousins, etc., coloring books and watch as you transform into their favorite family member before your eyes. They don’t have to know you’re doing this to keep ’em quiet 🙂

“Give kids a way to be included. Then set them free”

-Marie Hartwell-Walker (Psych Central)

‘Setting them free’ could be as simple as putting on a Disney movie after dinner. Even if your family members expect little kids to sit through hours of adult conversation at a dinner table, let them know your suggestions to make the gathering more fun for them. They will likely agree.

Do you have any tips for surviving family gatherings as a childfree person? Comment below and let me know!

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Comments

    • Marcie
    • November 21, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing this timely piece Brittany. I especially like the reminder with the grandparents. Although my parents understand our choice to be childfree, my grandparents do not. I usually end up making some kind of joke, which they also do not appreciate. My bigger issue is dealing with my nieces and nephews, especially when at my in-laws place. My mother and father-in-law still do not understand our childfree life. My mother-in-law is especially grandbaby hungry. Her daughter finally gave her two grandbabies, which has meant our normally quiet, adult fun filled holidays have turned to everything child.

    I’m childfree because I do not like children, especially young children. They cause me great anxiety and I do not find any joy in being around them. So at this point I’m still not very good during the holidays. My coping strategies need improvement. To avoid having to hold babies I make sure there is ALWAYS a drink in hand (of course I need the alcohol to survive too). When anyone comes around me with a baby I hold onto my drink like it’s a life vest keeping me from drowning and I quickly walk away. My other coping strategy is avoidance. When everyone gathers to play with the young children I find something to clean, organize, read a book in another room, workout, etc. Of course I miss hanging out with the adults but since we can’t have a conversation anymore (which is a huge annoyance of mine), I find removing myself from the beginning better than midway through, which my mother-in-law considers “storming off.”

    Luckily my husband is very supporting and feels some of the same things I do. He is better with young children which helps me get to avoid them (his mother LOVES seeing him with a baby in his arms). One way we survive together is by making sure we get some alone time. We go out to eat, go to the bar, take a walk, go do something fun, etc., just the two of us. This helps when I have reached my threshold, which happens much quicker for me than for my husband.

    I am looking forward to reading how other childfree people survive the holidays. Perhaps I will learn some new strategies!!

    Happy Holidays!

    1. Marcie, thank you for your comment. It’s so difficult when families are very baby-centric. I will admit avoidance was my coping mechanism for the longest time. Not necessarily with children, but with the gatherings in general. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking time out of the gathering but I’ve been guilty of “storming off” as you mentioned. Sometimes you just need a break, so be it! I’m happy to hear your husband is supportive. Taking the time to unwind, whether before or after, is so important. Thank you again your comment!

  1. Reply

    Lol don’t go to the family gathering is my suggestion

    1. A viable option, to be sure, heh heh.

  2. Reply

    Great advice Brittany! I read your post earlier and could have used a refresher before my family dinner tonight. Children, children, everywhere! Ok, there were four children but two of them were toddlers and one of them was a very loud 4 year old. It was just so loud, even when they were entertained. I love the idea of bringing them coloring books. I will have to remember that!

    1. Thanks, Courtney! I hope it works for you next time!

    • Tiffany
    • November 24, 2017
    Reply

    I enjoyed reading your article. However, I am a military wife that is alone during the holidays. So my functions mainly include other wives and their gaggles of children. It seems as though I am the only child free wife in this lifestyle. The other day, I went to a function with three other wives and two of the three were pregnant (3rd pregnancy) each. And the other wife had a newborn. Needless to say I felt a little left out. But your suggestions could apply in this situation as well.

    1. Tiffany, thank you for your comment! You brought up a great point. I tried pulling up some statistics to no avail but it does definitely seem like there are more military wives with children than without. I’m happy my suggestions were helpful but I will surely be doing more research to help you ladies out! Thanks again 🙂

  3. Excellent tips, Brittany! I especially love the ‘kill ’em with kindness one’. You make a very good point there and I really need to remember that strategy next time I’m being confronted by someone who simply cannot fathom the idea of a woman of reproductive age not wanting to have a child. I tend to get all annoyed and defensive but I probably shouldn’t, really. If they can’t understand my perfectly reasonable life choices, that’s actually their problem, not mine.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! It’s often the most difficult thing to continue being kind but it can certainly be useful!

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