Personally, I love family gatherings. Always have, ever since I was kid and family gatherings meant running amock with my cousins. Yet there’s no denying that with the onset of teenagehood, en mass family time becomes harder to bear. You don’t want to run amock with your cousins. You don’t want to run, period. But nor do you want to be grilled by your great uncle Pete on your GCSE, A level, degree and career choices when your whole brain is currently engaged in weighing up the relative merits of mum’s trifle versus aunt Anne’s cheesecake.
You need some survival tactics — some coping strategies you can employ when tensions are high and the conversation is low. Listen closely then, to the following advice. Because if anyone knows how to ride out an awkward family situation, it’s the girl with two stepparents, six step siblings, 10 cousins and more uncles, aunts and step uncles and aunts than you can shake an angry stick at…

Find a safe space

There will be moments when the atmosphere in the room is tense enough to tightrope on. These are the moments to find yourself suddenly and urgently needing the loo. You don’t actually have to go to the loo: in fact it’s probably best if you don’t, as you can bet your bottom penny you won’t be the only one with that escape route— but do, before you get stuck into the family time, scope out a quiet hiding place to which you can retreat when the going gets sticky. Mine was my grandad’s workshop — but I can also recommend attics, garages, large cupboards and the upper branches of an easily climbed tree.

Go armed with life choices

These do not need to be set in stone. They don’t even need to be real, in fact — but they need to be delivered with conviction. If it’s sociology and biology A-Levels followed by a stint on Love Island, you need to be as confident and positive about it as you might be a degree in law. See each family gathering as a dry run to a meeting with your careers advisor — we’ve loads of excellent betty guides here — and once great uncle Pete has dredged your entire future, turn the tables on him: nothing stops the Spanish inquisition like another Spanish inquisition.

Consider it an act of charity

For Pete’s sake, if no one else’s. You might not be living for the family do, but for the older members it’s probably the highlight of their social calendar: they’ll be dining off these memories until the next one comes around. Make them worth their chewing on – out of loving duty, preferably, but if it is easier to consider it your good deed of the week, then sure. Show them some affection, tell them your stories, ask questions and pay attention when they reply to you. What is the smallest sacrifice on your part – time – will be rewarded many times over by the pleasure you’ll give them – and besides, you may find you learn something. You don’t get to their age without racking up a fair few experiences, and, having grown up in a very different time to your own, their old tales are quite literally portals to another world.

Initiate games

My family are big game players: cards, Boggle, Pass the Bomb, Pit, Chinese Chequers, Rummikub, rounders, cricket: if it involves fighting each other to the death via the medium of a board or a pitch, we’re all over it. It makes for the perfect failsafe should conversation take a turn for the awkward, and – whisper it – it’s actually pretty fun. If your family don’t have any go-to games yet, initiate some. There’s plenty to choose from, and you can bend the rules to accommodate age and ability. Sure, you’ll be at each other’s throats by the end of it – but at least you’ll be arguing about spades and aces rather than the inheritance from your great aunt.

Help out

If all else fails – and there is a certain arm of my sprawling family for whom I have as much tolerance as I do a bluebottle trapped in a strip light – throw yourself into helping clear dishes, wash up, set tables and stir gravy with all the enthusiasm of those little mice in Cinderella. You’ll get brownie points AND you can minimise all unwanted contact with the fam.

Image: Katie Edmunds

I remember vividly the quivering sense of excitement I felt when my parents told me I was going to have a brother or sister. A playmate, I cried! After six long years of solitude, I was finally being rewarded with a partner in crime; a bad guy to my good guy; a fellow cast member with which to share the makeshift stage. For nine months I dreamed of all that we’d do together. His Action Man could save my Barbie — or, if he was a girl, her Barbie and mine could fight for Ken’s affections!

Looking back, my doll games were fairly limited in their plot lines, and in their depressingly conformist gender roles. More ambitious plans included reaching the top of the apple tree (I’d stand on their shoulders), forming a secret club of secrets (I’d be Club Captain), and reenacting the Little Mermaid in the paddling pool.

His arrival did not disappoint me. Sure he was small, but that was surely a temporary impediment. Patiently I pushed toy cars at him, placed Action Man in his tiny hands, and dressed him up in dresses, tiaras or dog masks according to the stage production or my mood.

Often I lost patience: WHEN would he just grow up! I’d shout, as he poked his tongue through the holes of the tennis racket I’d given him, picked up the ball and chewed it obliviously — and really, by the time he really was of Action Man playing age, I’d almost lost interest. I was 13 and had more important things to think about than dolls with contourless plastic for genitals — until an idle moment, rain and a sudden urge for silliness showed me the error of my ways.

You’ll be hilarious (simply because you’re older)

Whatever you do or say will be automatically far funnier than anything their minds can even conceive of (caveat: this only works up to a certain age — then they’re funnier than you).

There is no pressure

You don’t have to do or be anything other than their older sister. You can have a face like a slapped arse and be wearing your gran’s body warmer and they’ll still think you are the coolest thing in the world.

They’ll laugh you out of your moods

Either because they’ll do, or say something stupid, or because it’s actually impossible to run around the garden ‘riding’ a cane with your dad’s sock stuffed full of plastic bags tied to the end, with a horse’s face drawn on, and not crack a smile.

They will love you for it

In world in which people are increasingly hard to please, the simple offering of half an hour of your time will earn you no end of devotion from them, and your parents praise.

You don’t have to be cool

In fact, the more silly you are, the better. Hoover their foot. Shoot them with a banana. Steal their hat and run off with it. Make farting noises or, better still, actually fart at them — then run out and shut the door.

You can abuse them

See above. Obviously don’t punch them or anything. At least, not hard. Or too near their eye area. But by and large, when it comes to siblings, you can metaphorically speaking go for broke.

You’ll be good with kids

Being able to entertain the younger members of your family is the best possible preparation for being an adult who can speak to children without sounding like a simpering idiot — and ultimately, for having a good relationship with your own kids.

You’ll help your parents

Spare a thought for the ‘rents. They’ve only just got you to the feeding, speaking and walking stage, now they’ve got to go and do it all again in what must seem like a never-ending carousel of childcare. Take them off their hands for ten minutes or so and you’ll earn some serious brownie points — not to mention bargaining power when it comes to your next big night out.

You’ll be friends forever

Yeah, it’s taken some time — but 20 years later that that tiny, wailing, flopping thing was worth the investment. My brother has picked me up when I’m down, shot me down when I’m up myself, ferried me from parties, airports and train stations and built various bits of furniture. They may be as irritating as eczema, sunburn and hives all rolled into one, but trust me: in every sibling there lies a potential best friend.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

How many times have you stalked a couple on social media? Whether you’ve known them for years, or found them through your best friend’s cousin’s dog’s postman’s niece? Trawling through a couple’s social media history is a brilliant way to procrasti- I mean, super interesting. You’ll find you can probably filter them into these eight categories…

The ones in the same room-ers

mindy

@girlfriend101: @girlfriend102 Pass the remote.

@girlfriend102: @girlfriend101 It’s literally right next to you.

Their phones have taken over so much of their lives that they can no longer communicate physically. They’ve forgotten how to. Everything is done by @-reply. You know in WALL-E where the future humans are stranded in those chairs? Basically that.

The LOOK HOW GREAT THEY ARE-ers

look-how-great

Where they get their money from is anyone’s guess, but they’re constantly buying each other lavish presents and splashing them all over social media. Yes, yes your boyfriend’s wonderful. He is good at buying stuff. We all know. But just think of the clear-out you’ll have to do when you eventually break up. Effort.

The meme taggers

happy-gif-56b472ee7a1fa

It’s all they do. It’s their life, it’s their Bible. They tag each other in memes. Everything is relatable. They are peak internet.

The Snapchat streakers

taylor

Much like your nan telling you that one day the wind will change and you’ll be stuck frowning, soon these Snapchatters will have the dog filter permanently plastered on their faces. They’re obsessed with showing their bf/gf their every sight during the day and the heart emoji is cemented next to their name to prove it…. UNTIL IT’S NOT?! WHO THEY HELL HAVE THEY BEEN SNAPCHATTING? Which brings us on to…

The popcorn gatherers

popcorn

You don’t really have any care for these people, but their drama is too good for you to ditch. They love to air their dirty laundry publicly on every social media site (just in case you missed it elsewhere) and break up on Facebook at least once a week. It might be worth keeping a tally.

The subtweeters

maths

Much like the above but instead of being explicit about their drama, these couples like to be cryptic. Who was that dig directed at? Why has one of them had a terrible day and the other is ‘thinking about who’s really important in life’? It’s the modern crossword. It would save a lot of time if they just stepped up a level to ‘popcorn gatherers’ and were a bit more direct but, hey, it gives our brains a workout.

The vomit-inducers

mute

The only thing worse than couples fighting publicly on social media is couples who actually love each other. They check in together everywhere from Nando’s to the dentist, post kissing selfies with every heart emoji every damn day, and hashtag every soppy status with #love #truelove #loveofmylife #couplelife #relationshipsgoals #soblessed… ugh, sorry, I can’t… I’m gonna… oh God… *retches*

The ones that make you question whether they’re still together-ers 

modern

And finally, the couples who are too chill for social media. Yeah, they’re together, but they make you work for proof of their existence. You’ll be honoured with a viewing of a collage of their goofiest selfies on each other’s birthdays, maybe, and they tag each other in the odd meme. But otherwise, you’re kept on your toes. And while you’re seven months deep into their Instagram, they’re hanging out IRL.

Who are the real winners in this scenario? Hard to say.

@louisejonesetc

Illustration: Hailey Hamilton