close up on legs wearing Christmas pajamas and cozy socks in the air in front of a couch

The holidays are high season for life coaches. Here in the States, the festivities start with Halloween and go on all the way through New Year’s Day, when we drag ourselves out of bed and recommit to normal life. At any time during those weeks, the pressure is on: we must be happy while spending time, money, and energy we don’t have on people who may or may not deserve it.

I’m not trying to “Bah, humbug!” the season. I love the holidays. Thanksgiving, in particular, is one of my favorite times of year. But I’ve had my share of holiday family drama, and I’ve coached clients through scenarios that would make Santa himself start drinking eggnog straight out of Rudolph’s trough. 

If you’re one of those people who’s never had a trying experience at a holiday family gathering, congratulations! You can stop reading now.

Okay, now that that solitary person has left, let’s talk about how to handle a dysfunctional family holiday.


Zen and the art of holiday gathering

The key to staying sane when your family goes nuts is the same magic that makes meditation so powerful. We need to keep ourselves from going into a fight/flight/freeze brain state, and we do that by accessing the part of our awareness that is simply watching everything—the inner witness.

Now, you may be able to simply stay in your witnessing self as your mother casually mentions you could be a lot more like your uber-successful cousin, or your brother preaches a religion of his own design to a circle of rocks in the backyard. Maybe following your breath is all you need. I myself require stronger medicine. And thus it is that each year, as the autumn air cools and people don holiday-themed sweaters, I direct my clients and loved ones to Dysfunctional Family Bingo.


How to play

Dysfunctional Family Bingo is best played with a circle of friends. Before going home for the holidays, get together for coffee or an online chat with two or three of your besties. At this gathering, download and print your blank Dysfunctional Family Bingo card

In each of the empty squares, write down an incident you dread will happen—again!—when you’re once again enduring a family celebration. For example, in one square you might write, “Derek flexes his biceps until someone comments.” In another, “The ‘free-range parents’ and the ‘helicopter parents’ have a glare-off,” or “Sharlene’s plus-one is obviously her drug dealer.” Each person fills their card with likely scenarios from their particular family.

Once your Bingo cards are filled out, take yours to the family celebration. Each time one of your predicted scenarios occurs, mark off that square. When you’ve marked off a whole row, text or call your friends with the single word “Bingo!” Later, the first person to get Bingo gets a free lunch from the others.


Benefits of the game

Since that historic autumn day when I first devised and played Dysfunctional Family Bingo, this game has saved my sanity and my relationships over and over. Play it, and you’ll be the unflappable, benign presence that says to your nutty family, “Oh, please, go on!”

Here are just some of the benefits you’ll reap:

  • You go to the holiday in the position of witness, not victim.
  • You’re excited to see everyone, especially the crazies.
  • You enjoy every weird conversation, emotional meltdown, or alcoholic rant.
  • Love swells as your family helps you cross off squares.
  • You collect great stories to tell friends later.
  • Maybe you win a free lunch!

So call your friends, print out a Bingo card, fill it out, and sally forth into all those parties with the serenity of a Zen master. Go on social media to tell the tales that ensue. Let Bingo put the fun in your family’s brand of dysfunctional.