Avoiding Conflict at the Holiday Table

By  0 Comments

Holidays are joyous times when shared with family and friends. This year you would like for the holidays to bring peace, love and joy. Well, good luck with that. Families have their own dynamic and if this year is like the last few, stormy weather is ahead for many families. Now is the time to examine these conflicts, at least in your own mind, and take steps to avoid World War III.

The holidays bring increased stress for many families. Travel, gift-giving and extra cooking create tension among many family members and couples. The tension can cause heated arguments between different family members. Teens and their grandparents may not see eye-to-eye on many issues, spouses argue over which side of the family to visit, and in-laws may opine on the faults of their child’s spouse.

Deciding which side of the family to visit causes conflict in many families. If possible, simply see one side of the family in November and the other side in December. For years, a paternal aunt organized a big Thanksgiving dinner for my father’s side of the family on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. We met in the fellowship hall of our church, everyone brought food, and there were plenty of tables and space for all of the extended family. Those who could, came, and those who couldn’t missed all the fun. On the actual holidays, everyone was free to celebrate with their nuclear family as they wished.

Sometimes, it is just one person who causes all the problems. This person is conflictive, irrational, explosive, opinionated, has violent mood swings, plays the victim and collects grievances. This person needs professional help, but the family holidays are not the time for therapy. So, what can you do in the meantime, i.e., this holiday season?

There are several things you can do. Realize that there are limits to what you accept and stick by them. If this relative is always late, state that dinner is at 7:30 p.m. and stick to it. Start the meal on time.

Another path you can take is to honor the old adage: Never discuss politics or religion in polite company. Get everyone to agree before the holidays that these topics are simply too divisive in your family to bring up at a family dinner. Then, if the conversation does get out of control, especially if alcohol or weapons are involved, have a plan to deal with potential physical conflict. That might even involve calling the police.

One sure-fire way to lessen tension and stress is to avoid rehashing past grievances. Stick to the matter at hand and refuse to be drawn into a prolonged battle over things that happened years ago.
Often, when we’re involved in a family argument, we forget all of our education about better behavior and fall into patterns of our childhood experiences. Stay calm and say something such as, “Yes, and now give me a solution to this problem. What do you suggest we do?” Your relative may be nonplussed and struggle for a comeback, giving everyone a chance to cool off. By encouraging and modeling a positive attitude you are setting the stage for a new dynamic in the family.

Blended families may view the holidays as a particularly sad time since the holidays trigger old memories and the way things were done in their previous family life. Instead of ignoring the problem, encourage everyone to come up with new rituals and traditions to be enjoyed together. Are there must-see movies that one side of the family can share with the other? Maybe the other side of the family has a special tradition such as dressing in warm socks and pajamas. Maybe you could go for a drive to see the Christmas lights before dressing in pajamas and watching the movie together. Look for ways to create new traditions.

As you look for ways to integrate all family members, don’t forget that everyone needs some private space, especially teens. Some teens are more sensitive than others and conflict can occur if their needs are not respected. Look for ways to help your teen cope during the crowded-house days. Remind the teen that she will have to share with the cousins and maybe even be kicked out of her room to accommodate other family members. Make it sound like an adventure, not a punishment.

Finally, take care of yourself. Set aside some time and energy for yourself and don’t try to do it all. Have other family members bring in a special food for big meals, forget about cleaning until after everyone is gone, use disposable dishes as much as possible, and enjoy the company of your relatives. A little chaos is normal and part of the fun. It will all be over all too soon. ■

Sources: natcom.org, verywellmind.com, psychologytoday.com and time.com.