As the year winds to a close, you may already be dreading packing up the car and make the annual road trip to join your relatives for the festive season. And along with the one million people who have moved to Gauteng in the past decade, you will be joining the seemingly endless traffic queues across the country. And even if you've ridden this ride a hundred times before, it still feels like the first time when your stomach nosedives as you pull up at your parents' house only to hear your nieces and nephews shrieking at each other over the volume of the television and your uncle's holiday classics records (all at once).
But with a plan, almost anything is manageable. So we've got you covered to get you through the few days with your family — and the scenarios that usually pop up during family time — unscathed.
1. Deciding on sleeping arrangements at your grandmother's house — where there just is not enough space.
Pre-empt it and find an AirBnB, guesthouse or hotel close by. Book before telling your mother. And it is important to remind her of the fight that you and your sister had the year before and how you would just like to avert the crisis before it even arises.
2. Figuring out who holds dominion over the kitchen.
This is largely dependent on whose house it is and how proficient you are in the kitchen. If you're usually the one taking the reins of the big family meal and this year it's being held at your aunt's house, give her a call ahead of time with great menu ideas. And then graciously offer to take the cooking burden off her hands. Next, enlist a team of helping hands. Be sure to make everyone who wants to be part of it feel included by delegating even the smallest tasks to willing parties.
If you aren't ordinarily involved in the kitchen turf war, save yourself by staying as far away from it all as long as you can — lest you be mistaken for a set of willing hands.
3. Your aunt, grandmother and cousin's wife asking again when you're 'just going to settle down'.
The key here is to ninja your way out of this conversation as quickly as possible and to leave as little room for follow up questions as you can. It would be great if we could stand there and give them our well prepared monologue about how we don't have to explain our decisions to anyone. But with family, there are times when you just have to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially early on during the family get-together. In this case, we suggest you laugh it off lightly and sigh your way through saying "oh, you know, work, it keeps me so busy. Lots of work. So busy." And politely excuse yourself — to fill your glass, wash a dish, go to the bathroom. Anything. Just move out of there.
4. Spending guilt-free time with your friends
Maybe your parents live in a different city. And when you're home visiting them it's also an opportunity to see the friends you grew up with — or you need some relief from listening to your uncle's Boney M collection once again. Trying to convincing your parents that having a quick supper or round of drinks with your friends often leads to questions of you not loving them. But fear not, it can be fixed. See your friends when your parents don't really need that much attention (later in the evening, when they're preparing for bed). If these are friends your parents also know, invite them over and hang out at home like you did in high school. And let's be fair — you're likely to spend more time in the year with your friends anyway, so perhaps cut your parents some slack on this one.
5. Figuring out when is a good time to leave
This is a delicate negotiation. You and your siblings will have to convene ahead of time and decide how you are going to navigate your departure. Try to avoid a mass exodus if you can and stagger your goodbyes as far as possible. If you have serious plans that you can't (or don't want to) move, tell them — and let your parents know too. Whether it's unavoidable work or an unmissable New Year's Eve party, it's important to keep everyone in the loop. And to stay firm -- you're an adult, even in your parents' house.
6. Splitting bills
Whether you're all sitting down at a restaurant or cooking for 12 for a whole week, it's going to be difficult for just one person to cover those costs. Depending on your family, the split may only be possible amongst those who have jobs — and perhaps it should be done proportionally in alignment with what each person can afford. Again, this is probably best to be decided ahead of time to avoid last minute at-the-table surprises. Contribute what you can, but don't allow yourself to be taken for a ride. Your trendy student cousin may know all the best spots she'd to eat at but isn't ready to cover her portion of the bill. So plan outings as far in advance as you can, save for them, and be prepared with a little extra cash just in case.
7. Mum's house? Dad's house?
Blended families and children of divorce can have a difficult time managing expectations of parents about who spends which holiday at either parents' house. Communication is key here. And maybe even a roster from one year to the next — you had lunch at your mum's last year, so maybe it's your dad's turn this year? It's important to make sure no one feels excluded
8. Your family? Your partner's family?
Similar to navigating the precarious "which parent" scenario, deciding which partner's family will get the lion's share of your time can be just as tough. Again, communication and moderation are your life lines. And bear in mind that you might have to have it out with your partner before either family hears whose table you'll be seated at. Taking turns is often the best compromise — and make sure to agree on just how much time you'll be spending at each to avoid strained wordless glares in your partner's direction when you're trying to escape another conversation with a relative you would rather avoid.
9. The awkward religious questions
You're not a regular church-goer, or have just stopped going completely. And somewhere in the back of her mind, your mother is fully aware of this. But for the sake of peace, you both dance around the elephant in the room towards Christmas Day -- until you don't and you find yourself facing an "are you going to go to church with us in the morning" inquisition on a Saturday night. Well now is as good a time as any to confront both your mom and that elephant and firmly, but respectfully, say "No, thank you". Try not to get caught in a series of follow-up questions. Instead just stay in bed when your family heads off. The first time will be the most difficult, from there it'll just be the thing you don't do.