Holidays can be stressful no matter the family. But what about families that don’t always get along? Whether it’s past tensions, differing opinions, or general annoyance of bringing everyone together, holidays aren’t always perfect and peaceful. At the same time, we want to be proactive in showing our own children how to manage conflict and be respectful of one another. So, we posed this question to our experts:
When it comes to parenting, how do you model positive relationships when/if your family doesn’t really get along?
According to Amy McCready...
1. Find (any) common ground. Start by identifying areas in which you DO agree, even if it’s just how much you all despise holiday fruitcake. Focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us is a great behavior to model for our kids.
2. Search for silver linings. Actively seek out the positive in others this holiday season. Instead of feeling annoyed with your father-in-law for going on and on about his political views at the holiday table, find the silver lining by thinking, “it’s great that he keeps his mind active by engaging in current events.” You may just find yourself feeling more peaceful and accepting.
3. Create a short list of non-negotiables. Some family friction is normal, but if there are certain patterns that are just non-negotiables for you, have a kind and respectful discussion up front. “Uncle Bob, we don’t allow smoking in our home but we’ve set up an area for you in the garage with a chair and a portable heater.”
4. Have a plan for disagreements. Chances are, a disagreement may arise this holiday season. When it comes to families, even minor disagreements can quickly become emotionally charged as a result of past issues and “baggage.” To give yourself a head start on successful resolution, agree in advance on a plan for handling disagreements, and practice good communication. For instance, it’s best to stay away from statements like “You never…” or “You always…,” which can put a person on the defensive. Instead, use “I feel” messages. That may sound like, “I feel frustrated when I end up doing all the cleaning after dinner. Would you mind drying while I wash?” A carefully worded and respectful statement will go a long way in starting a productive conversation.
According to Jennifer Miller...
1. Set a positive tone on your way to your family. Take the opportunity on your car ride or flight to visit family (or during your household preparations) to think about what you love most about each family member. Yes, of course, there are plenty of issues that bother you. Set those aside. Focus on the aspects of the people you are most grateful for to set your family's tone in advance for positive interactions.
2. Prepare yourself and your partner with the key question ahead of time. When a family member challenges me, "what can I learn from it?" If you focus on learning and not on fighting to make a point, you'll find that you'll gain new insights into family members and will take on less of the heat of the conversation.
3. Express gratitude for others' inner character in addition to the food and surroundings. You may have a gratitude tradition of expressing what you are thankful for before you dive into your grand feast. Add to that gratitude, expressing what you are grateful for in others around the table. It doesn't have to be a long list but offering one inner strength per person will set the tone for feelings of warmth and graciousness to begin the meal.
According to Amber Coleman-Mortley...
1. Ultimately we must remember that our children are watching us. They’re watching our body language and listening to everything we say out loud do others or under our breath. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be honest or transparent, but it does mean that we should be cognizant of how we engage with family members. Remember we are teaching our children how to be adults and how to engage with us, our siblings and parents when they grow up. Kids are way more perceptive than we want to give them credit and chances are they’ve already overheard some form of family gossip. We want to teach them respect but we also want them to know that just because someone is family, it doesn’t give them the right to violate your mental peace.
2. Be transparent. If you have tension with a family member, talk to your children on the ride over or before getting out the car about it. Maybe even give some background into your relationship and let them know that if they experience anything that makes them uncomfortable, they have the agency to come to you or speak up for themselves. There is always an age-appropriate way to talk to your child about what makes you uncomfortable with your family. Teach them to be discerning but not judging. Family members have different values, religions, political views, and social beliefs, and we should learn from them, love them, but not judge them.
3. Be open. Everyone deserves a second chance as long as they aren’t harming you physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. When we prepare ourselves for the worst possible scenarios we lose out on opportunities to create new memories. Give those family members you disagree with the chance to be awesome. You share DNA or at least familial bonds, even if you believe their values to be completely backward, take the time to get to know your family in other ways- play a game, watch a movie, go volunteer somewhere as a group. This takes the pressure off of small talk and possible arguments. Rather than use the holidays as an opportunity to evangelize your values, use it as a time to create fond memories.
According to Tamara Fyke...
Honestly, we do deal with some family tension, and I am a bit nervous about the holidays. We had a Christmas Day blow up a few years ago, and I’m determined to do my part so that doesn’t happen again. As a parent who is always looking for teachable moments, here is what I’m planning to do to foster positive relationships.
1. Plan ahead. My kids do better together when we have a plan. Whether it’s game night, Christmas light walk, Hallmark movie marathon, community service, or cookie baking, I am creating a schedule for what we can do when. I consider myself the family cruise director, providing a variety of options. This doesn’t mean we have to do everything on the list, but it means we have ideas and supplies at the ready.
2. Provide for alone time. My sons are both introverts. Therefore, I know that I cannot expect them to engage with the grandparents and other loved ones 24/7. They need time alone to recharge. Letting them know when they will have this opportunity to reset enables them to persevere through the family activities.
3. Expect growth, not perfection. Being fully aware of our humanity, I know that our holiday celebration will not be without some hiccups. What fun would that be anyway? If I lose my cool, say or do something hurtful, I will own it without excuse. Then I will have the conversations I need to have to do my best to make things right.
Accoridng to Shari Sevier...
Some families don’t get along well, for a variety of reasons. At holiday time, these tensions just add to the stress level. If you are going to be around family situations that are difficult, here are a few things you can do:
Make a pact with yourself and/or your spouse that you are not going to get drawn into challenging discussions. If someone starts to bait you, you and your spouse can have a signal or phrase that lets the other know you need some intervention. It’s super easy for someone to come in and say, “Hey, I need my spouse for a minute; please excuse us.” Then you two can go outside or to another location in the home and reset.
Have responses ready like, “I just want to have fun. I’m “out” when it comes to discussions that aren’t focused on fun.” Stick to your guns, with a smile on your face, and start talking to others who aren’t involved in the difficult conversation.
Excuse yourself to use the restroom and/or tend to the kids, if challenging conversations are starting. After a few minutes out of the area, start a conversation with others.
According to Wendy Rock...
The first thing to keep in mind is whether the conflict, disagreement, or problem is more important than the relationship. When two people are involved sometimes it is up to one person to make the choice to put the controversy aside. If someone is being particularly egregious, hurtful, or offensive, it is important to speak up and hold them accountable, but do so respectfully.
It is okay to have an uncomfortable conversation but do so without blaming, accusing, shaming, or being critical. "I" statements can work particularly well in these situations. They begin with the words "I feel..." (fill in the blank with how you feel) "when you..." (fill in the blank with the concern), and "I want..." (fill in the blank with what you want to be different.) "I" statements are most useful when we need to confront others about their behavior, when others are not treating us right, when we feel defensive or angry, and when others are angry at us.
I really like Dr. William Glasser's seven deadly habits (criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing) and seven caring habits (supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating differences) as a guide. The seven deadly habits sabotage relationships.