Your house during the holidays is a sitcom (or a soap opera) waiting to happen. You’ve got mouths to feed, youngsters to corral and in-laws to duel – on top of watching a Cowboys team that makes even your brood look organized. Don’t worry: If sitcom moms can handle their wacky families, so can you. We gathered a fictional family and consulted Dawn Hallman, executive director of the Dallas Association for Parent Education, for tips on dealing with your own Bart Simpson or Cosmo Kramer.
The mother-in-law who is always right
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith,Downton Abbey)
This may be your home, but she asserts her old-fashioned sensibilities like she owns the place. Her stubbornness makes her a valuable ally but a terrifying enemy, so it’s in your best interests to stay on her good side – wherever that is. She’s fiercely protective of her family, but you have yet to figure out whether that includes you.
How to deal with her: Don’t try to keep her out of the kitchen – that’s a lost cause. Instead, give her a high-visibility task to do, like whipping up her famous cranberry sauce that you’ve never quite been able to replicate (much to your chagrin).
(If you need a refresher course, Seasons 1 & 2 of Downtown Abbey are available on DVD and Blu-Ray on shoppbs.org.)
The stepmom your menfolk can’t stop looking at
Gloria Pritchett (Sofia Vergara,Modern Family)
She’s sexy and she knows it. But behind the stilettos is a woman who cares deeply about her family, even if she’s a bit daunting at times. In fact, a little jealousy may be keeping you two from bonding, because frankly, how are you supposed to compete with that?
How to deal with her: She’s an outsider who desperately wants in, so draw her alongside and give her a meaningful assignment, something that lets her strut her stuff. And by that we mean her love for decorating and her passion for family, of course.
The sibling who tries too hard
Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker,Weeds)
She gets an A for effort, but her decisions are irrational at best and life-threatening at worst. You’re tired of cleaning up the messes from her good intentions gone wrong. What she really needs is a safe and productive new hobby – preferably not gardening.
How to deal with her: She’s restless – if you don’t give her something to do, there’s no telling what might hit the fan. Avoid putting major decisions on her plate, but some sense of responsibility might keep her from branching out into territories unknown (and you definitely don’t want to go there).
The brother-in-law who’s better than you
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser,Mad Men)
He’s a study in delusions of grandeur, but of course he’ll be the last person to figure out that he’s not God’s gift to mankind. He does, however, have a singular talent for name-dropping. A small part of you feels sorry for the guy, but if he mentions his promotion one more time, you’ll no longer be held liable for where you shove that drumstick.
How to deal with him:Put the turkey down and assuage his ego for a minute. A few questions about his interests (but not about him specifically) will steer the conversation away from his personal prowess while still giving him the attention he obviously craves.
The kid who’s up to no good
Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright,The Simpsons)
A quiet child does not mean a well-behaved child. In fact, if you don’t hear a peep out of this one for a while, you should be trembling in your Toms. There’s no telling what he’ll do or say next, but it’s a sure thing he’ll shock everyone in attendance – especially poor Grandma.
How to deal with him:Keep him busy with activities he doesn’t normally have access to, like a special video game for holidays only. If he has something new and challenging to do, perhaps he won’t resort to more creative endeavors (but keep an eye on the turkey, just in case).
The father-in-law who has nothing nice to say (but says it anyway)
Frank Barone (Peter Boyle,Everybody Loves Raymond)
He’s master of the non sequitur, offering his opinions and crude comments only when they’re the least relevant. Occasionally he shifts from his favorite perch to criticize more vehemently, but usually he’s content to recline in comfort while spewing his curmudgeonly wisdom.
How to deal with him:Try not to take his censure too personally – it won’t seem so scathing when you remember that he condemns everyone and everything. And if you can avoid a verbal sparring match, you can also avoid an awkward talk with the kiddos about the difference between fighting and “having a discussion.”
The sibling who’s always in debt
Lindsay Fünke (Portia de Rossi,Arrested Development)
She comes trotting back to the fold whenever she’s run out of resources (a frequent occurrence). Her self-esteem is as depleted as her pocketbook, and you wonder when – if ever – she’s going to take the first steps into responsible adulthood … like, you know, getting a job?
How to deal with her: Never let your checkbook out of your sight. But if you can’t resist the pout, indulge her self-image rather than her expensive habits – compliments will go further than cash. Feeling good about herself may even motivate her to turn in a resume or two … or buy that designer dress she’s been eyeing.
That one neighbor
Kramer (Michael Richards,Seinfeld)
He’s a moocher extraordinaire with no concept of privacy or tact. When he rings the doorbell, you know your pantry will take it in the gut. When he borrows your tools, you better head to Home Depot. But his heart is in the right place, even if he’s always in the wrong one – namely, your foyer.
How to deal with him: Remember that he’s just trying to be friendly. Don’t get too angry when he invades your home, your privacy and your carefully constructed self-image. Who knows? This lonely guy may end up being the life of your holiday party (or at least fodder for future laughter around the buffet).
Photos courtesy of Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for Masterpiece; 20th Century Fox Television; ABC; AMC Networks; CBS Broadcasting Inc; Fox Broadcasting Company; Sony Pictures Television; TV Land