With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us are in full-on planning mode. We’re arranging travel plans, confirming when family is coming into town, and decorating our homes. It’s easy to focus almost solely on the details of the holidays — after all, we’ve spent so much time preparing and want everything to go as seamlessly as possible, right? I think that we often get swept up in the planning and perfection of it all that we sometimes forget that the holidays can often bring about family tension. So we’re sharing 5 tips for managing family conflict during the holidays.
Emotions run high this time of year for many reasons — and there’s definitely a comfort level that comes with being around family (aka, no filter!). So how do we manage those strong emotions and, often, opinions? How do we graciously steer the conversation away from controversial topics?
“Blessed is the peacemaker” is one Beatitude we should keep front and center during the holiday season. It’s no easy task, but it’s not impossible! Diffusing family conflict is a loving act of service — for you and your family alike. But it’s a skill!
Today we’re sharing 5 ways to manage family conflict that I hope help if you find yourself in a sticky situation this holiday season. Because let’s face it, we can perfectly plan every detail, but we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves….family included!
1. Prep before the holidays get here.
We often have a picture of what holidays should look like that, when this expectation doesn’t happen the way we hope, we can get angry, resentful, or snippy. So the name of this game is managing expectations. Talk before the holidays get here with your spouse, siblings, or parents about the plan and your expectations. Maybe even go as far as to detail how long you plan to spend at your parents’ house, etc.
Also, practice what to say if a touchy subject comes up. We have a whole section on the blog about what to say in different scenarios, as well as a post about the art of gracious conversation. If you or your family is currently struggling with something — such as infertility, illness, or issues at school — then go ahead and think through a few things to say if someone brings it up. That way you’re not caught off guard.
And if you find yourself getting upset with how things turned out, like a tradition that didn’t happen or a dish that wasn’t made — instead of bringing it up in the moment, wait until next fall and bring it up. Say something along the lines of, “This year I’d really like to do XYZ, can we make that happen?” This gives you space from the high emotions and allows you to approach any situation objectively.
2. Don’t pile on the guilt.
Making people feel bad for unmet expectations does not lead to a happy family homecoming. If you are a new mother-in-law or a new grandmother, you might want things to go a certain way. But as your family expands, things get more complicated. You don’t want your grown children and their spouses to dread coming to your house because you make them feel bad about something they did or didn’t do. It can be hard, but when you take the pressure off of those you love, the holidays will be so much more enjoyable for everyone. And THEY will appreciate having such a gracious mother or mother-in-law!
Bottom line: make your home a gracious and warm inviting environment in both decor and attitude!
3. Be slow to speak and quick to listen.
I don’t know why holiday gatherings seem to be a magnet for controversial topics, but they sure are! We may want to jump in and defend our position on this or that, but this is not the time or place. Nod your head and engage later if necessary. Remember: We are modeling for our children how to handle conflict, and they are watching us! If our children see us loving others even when they say unkind things, or graciously changing the subject, then they will learn from that.
4. Change the subject.
Speaking of changing the subject! This can be an art form, of sorts. When someone says something that’s sure to start an argument try saying, “Oh how interesting. Hey, did you hear that so and so moved back to town?” Or throw in some humor: “Hey no politics at the dinner table, let’s save that for later!” I assure you that most people will be grateful for the change in topic.
5. Keep busy.
If your family is fractious or looking for an argument, then keep busy by helping! Remove yourself from the situation by doing the dishes, taking out the trash, or readying the meal. Suggest an after-dinner walk. Give yourself permission to step out of the room if a situation is too stressful. The same goes with children. If you notice that the conversation is getting heated or inappropriate, enlist your children to help you in whatever you’re doing. Or suggest going outside to play — and go with them!
I hope this is helpful to you as you navigate the holidays this year! What tips would you add to this list?
On that note, if you are heading somewhere for the holidays this year be sure to bring or send a hostess gift! Gifts are always a great way to send goodwill!