Home Alone is my favorite Christmas movie. I think almost everyone can relate to the beginning of the movie when Kevin’s extended family is all crammed into his house, eating his cheese pizza and peeing in his bed. Huge family gatherings can bring out the worst in just about anyone, making Kevin’s explosion pretty sympathetic. But if you’re an introvert, then you probably find the first act of the movie even more stressful and nightmarish. And while every kid probably fantasized about being home alone, 'Home Alone'-style, few would relish it as much as an introvert who’s used to being part of a large brood.
For most major holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, and sometimes Easter—my mom and stepdad host their joint families for a meal. That means eight children, six significant others of children, four grandchildren, two great-grandparents, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Just kidding about that partridge; it’s actually five dogs.)
Sometime between the appetizers and the main course, I wind up so exhausted that I have to retreat to some upstairs room to be alone. I’ve been known to “run to the bathroom” so many times that my family starts to inquire as to whether I am feeling alright. I imagine they discuss my gastro-intestinal health in hushed tones while I’m absent.
The holiday season is still a couple of months away, but just like advertisers and major retailers, I start thinking about and planning for it early. Besides, if you have a big enough family, it is best to be prepared for that birthday party, baby shower, or bar mitzvah that may pop up and steal your weekend. Having a few different plans at your disposal can help make those times less stressful.
After Thanksgiving dinner, I practically sprint to the kitchen sink—but not because I’m a nice person. If you volunteer to do the dishes, you’ll get some quiet time alone in the kitchen washing up while everyone else chats out in the dining room. Similarly, at Christmas, you could always be the person who takes the dog out. An even better idea is to take the dog on a walk. A long one. Even if someone wants to come with you to “keep you company,” you’ll at least get to spend some one-on-one time with them, which most introverts still find preferable to a large gathering.
Bring a book
But read the book only in moderation. As a youngster, I gained a less-than-favorable reputation for the fact that I spent a lot of the holidays sitting in a corner with my nose in a book. However, if you’re on a trip with your family or visiting them for a long weekend, you will need to get away from everyone occasionally. Even if you can’t get out of the same room as them, you can still situate yourself at the edge of the room, open a book, and create your own pocket of silence—assuming you can focus, despite whatever cacophony they are creating.
Suggest watching a movie
You may not be able to escape your family, but you can definitely make them stop talking for two hours. We often watch a movie on Christmas afternoon, and even if I don’t have an interest in watching the movie, I still find it a delightful time to zone out and be alone with my thoughts while being physically with my family.
Divide and conquer
No, I’m not telling you to try to split up your parents. Trust me—that will only enlarge and complicate your family in the long-run. What I do mean is that you don’t always have to assemble every last member of your family for every holiday or Sunday dinner. Your second-cousin-twice-removed will probably be OK with not receiving an invitation to your Christmas dinner. Besides, it's probably better if you only invite those distant relatives to really big events, such as weddings or family reunions.
You can also have separate dinners or events with different members of your close family. Maybe you can go out for brunch with your siblings on Sunday and have your parents over for dinner the next Friday. Every family is different, but most will understand if you can’t accommodate (or don’t want to deal with) 12 people at your house for dinner all at once. They’ll probably appreciate being with you in a smaller group or more intimate setting, especially if you have other introverts in your family.
Start a discussion about types
If members of your family aren’t already familiar with introversion and extraversion, talk to them about it! Having a conversation with your more outgoing family members about how you derive energy from solitude might make them take it less personally the next time you wander away from the party for a bit. You and your family could even take a Myers-Briggs or Big Five test and discuss and compare results.
Of course, most of these suggestions apply to the introvert who is only exposed to his or her large family en masse at occasional gatherings. For the introvert who lives with his or her large family—either with parents, in a multi-generational house, or with his or her own litter of children—things can get a little trickier.
Following the last tip and educating your family about types, specifically introversion and extraversion, is probably one of the most useful things you can do in those scenarios. Running off to wash dishes all of the time seems a little less personally helpful there, although I’m sure your family would appreciate it.
If you live with your large family, the most important thing you can do is to create your own space. This could be a bedroom, an office, or even a corner of the family room where everyone knows not to bother you. (As a child, my dad called me the “basement hermit.) It doesn’t even have to be a physical space; it could be a time when you know that everyone else is out of the house and that you always make sure you’re home for.
Often people confuse self-care with being selfish, but it is important to take care of yourself and give yourself the quiet and peace that you need, even if you are a member of a big family. So try not to let anyone make you feel guilty about needing “me” time.
Just don’t tell anyone to get their ugly, yella, no-good keister off your property.