The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feller is a toolbox of parenting advice. I think Feiler wrote it over time with some of the pieces running in newspapers or magazines but it doesn't feel disjointed. The book has a layout that doesn't imply cohesiveness in a narrative but it does all fit together.
In one chapter Feiler shares his findings about how to have difficult conversations, which might be relevant for the upcoming holidays. During holidays you'll be seeing people you don't normally see and having a gamut of conversations like making family vacation plans, what to do about someone's estate, whether to move mom and dad from their home, how to split up future holidays, or how much money to spend on a joint gift. Some of these conversations can be challenging but Feiler digs into some of the tips from the book Difficult Conversations.
The central premise of Heen and Stone's book about difficult conversations is not to view them as isolated incidents, but to see them as parts of a larger narrative of the relationship. To do that we need four steps.
What are the four steps?
1 Be curious about the other's side.
This is common in management tools about any sort of discussion. In Getting to Yes the authors share many stories about negotiations that went smoothly because once one side understood the underlying reasons for the other side's requests, they were easy to accommodations to make.
In your family gatherings then, you're going to have an aunt that wants to wait and open presents until everyone arrives. This doesn't seem fair to you but maybe you should ask her why this matters, what's her underlying reasoning. Maybe it has something to do with a family picture that is better served at another time. The presents aren't the central point to her request, a picture is.
2 Tell your own story second.
After getting to the root of the other person's story, you need to find the root of your own story. When our daughters were younger I would get unhappy about things my wife did or didn't do or the way my kids acted. It turned out that I was frustrated with students I was teaching and bringing those things into a context they had no business being. We need to isolate the central part of the problem and address that instead of the peripheral symptoms.
3 Create a third story together.
Feiler says, "Once both stories are on the table, don't choose between them; embrace both." It's incredibly tricky to get the right answer in life rather than a right answer. Finding those solutions that make everyone happy is going to bring more jolly and less folly to your Christmas.
4 Remember, this is not the last story you'll tell together.
Even though we don't see these people much of the year, we still do see them. Your family is going to make more vacation plans, have more conversations about mom and dad, and give more joint gifts.
One final tip that I subscribe to is going with the flow and remembering that it doesn't much matter who makes what choices. I can spend time with Grandma Alice or Cousin Eddie for a day or two. I can sleep on couches or floors and eat foods that I can't even identify. And those requests that I disagree with? I'll agree instead, it's just one more gift to give this time of year.