Four Survival Tips for Dysfunctional Family Events

by Bill Brenner on June 5, 2012

I’ll admit it: I’m something of a black sheep in my family. There’s a large chunk of family I have little to no communication with. But sometimes big events require us to be together in the same space, like a wedding this coming Saturday. What to do?

Mood music:


I’m thinking about this because the family member I’m most estranged from sent me a Facebook friend request yesterday. Since she unfriended and blocked me a few months ago, pissed to the gills over this blog and some of the memories I’ve shared here, I decided to decline the invitation. I really don’t need to hear the same old bullshit about how this person is the victim and how my recollections are distorted.

But Erin, the kids and I still have to share the same space with this person on Saturday, so I’m thinking a lot about how we should conduct ourselves. In the process, a survival guide is forming in my head. It is in no way scientific. It may not even work. But it’s what I’ve got so far.

  • Smile and say hello. Sure you can give your estranged loved one an icy stare and cold shoulder, but all that will do is throw tension in the air for everyone to bathe in. That wouldn’t be fair. I despise people who let their selfishness wreck someone else’s special occasion. Just smile and say hello. You don’t have to have a conversation. Just be cordial when face to face. My extended family deserves some credit on this score, because at a wedding over the summer everyone behaved. I think it’ll be the same this time.
  • Don’t stare. If there’s one thing I hate at family gatherings, it’s when people stare at you. I’ve been stared at during all kinds of family events involving all sides of my clan. It leaves me wondering if I have potato salad in my beard or a hole in my pants. I can’t stop people from staring, but I’ve decided not to stare back. Staring contests never end well.
  • Find a buddy. No matter how many people you’re not getting along with, you can always count on finding a few people you are getting along with. Instead of staring at others, find the family and friends you get on well with and spend your the time talking to them.
  • Don’t linger if you’re uncomfortable. Some would say it’s rude and selfish to be the family member who leaves the event early. I disagree. If you linger and your comfort level is stuck in the low setting the whole time, it’ll show in your body language and the people around you will feel it. Why do that to them? ¬†When that’s the case, gracefully remove yourself from the scene.
  • Say your goodbyes, give some hugs and leave.

Help Me Wedding Photo

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf June 5, 2012 at 10:20 am

Bill, these are excellent tips. Thanks so much for sharing them, and I hope you and your family enjoy that wedding.

Penny June 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm

This advice is pure gold.

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