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How can you be better prepared to enjoy your family at these holiday get-togethers? #holidays #family #holidaysandfamily

Photo: Martha G. Brady

Are you ready for the next month or so of family get-togethers and holiday meals? Sometimes, they can be stressful and don’t match up to the commercials and movies we play in our heads about what they should be like. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the coming visits.

Think through your chronic irritations and why they irritate you.

Sometimes, it helps to think through the things that chronically irritate you and figure out why. The same old joke x says, the dumb stories y tells that bore you to death, the way z constantly complains? Whatever the list you have in your head is, think it through.

1. Are there consistent themes that irritate you? Why do they irritate you? Do you ever speak up? For example, is there someone who consistently puts another person down when the family is together? Does anyone ever speak up and say it is inappropriate and needs to change? Do you ever speak up for yourself as an adult? Or is their quirk something that irritates only you? Why is that?

So often, there is a desire to have peace at any cost and we pay too high a price for it. We allow bullies to get away with their work and don’t defend people who are being bullied, sometimes in subtle ways. This doesn’t keep the peace. It only allows people who are behaving badly to continue their evil work. It is good to find these people irritating, but better to deal with them calmly. Injustice is never good, but lashing out rarely helps. It is better to have a calm plan when the incident happens so you can deal with it in a calm, more just way.

What are the things that make it most difficult for you to get together with your family? Bullying, boredom, negativity?

What can you do to change the dynamic?

2. There are times when we think we can’t stand getting together with our family one more time. We make the things we don’t like much larger in our heads than they really are…sometimes. It may help to look at the positives about the person/people we are struggling with. Is this a consistent problem or did they have an off-year/an off few years? Are they going through a difficult season that could explain some of their behavior? Is there a way to steer the conversation to something more positive or to insert some encouragement into the conversation? It isn’t always possible, but when it is, it is great to see how a few positive words can alter a conversation for the good.

Have we engaged them one on one to even know what kind of year they have had? Or have we been so put off by their negativity that we just stay away? Sadly, we often treat family members as if we know what is happening with them when we actually haven’t had a meaningful conversation with them in a long time. I’m not underestimating the difficulty of this. I’m simply stating that if you want to change the dynamic of some of the family interactions, these are some of the things that may need to happen.

It is helpful to see how thinking ahead about a person or conversation pitfall beforehand can prepare you for the conversations that may arise. It helps to think through who the person is and where they are coming from when they get to that conversation.

Are there ways to affirm the positives of family members in some areas that tend to get on your nerves in others?

We don’t want to tolerate bullying of course, but artsy people may be fun in their element even if they have quirky temperaments.

3. Often, we love our families, but find some of them difficult to be around for extended periods of time. It’s important to think through our love for them and our ability to live with some of their irritating quirks. For an occasional meal, we can’t expect someone to change everything about themselves for us, Inappropriate behavior needs to change for sure! But otherwise, we need to learn to adjust to who we are as people.

By inappropriate behavior or language, I mean language or behavior that is abusive. Sometimes, we get used to it and don’t recognize it, but we can usually recognize its effect on the hearer. Your loud, noisy brother won’t change. Neither will your quiet more introverted sister who is more inclined to say very little. Learn to make use of their strengths and don’t keep getting upset by their perceived weaknesses.

We can encourage more positivity by the questions we ask or the ways we word comments and questions. We can encourage family members by offering true, encouraging words in our conversations with them. Whether we will end up being the main instrument of change or not, is the point. By doing the things that need to be done, GOD will use them for good in the life of your family if done with a humble spirit.

More recently, politics has been a topic that is just not a good one to discuss at family gatherings. It is such a divisive topic that it isn’t wise to discuss it at the meal table where everyone is a captive audience.

Your family may have other such topics as well.

4. There will be years when it will be wise to set up a rule for topics not to be discussed. For example, during election years (and often at other times) it may be wise to leave politics and political views off the conversation list. Why discuss something that is bound to cause friction? It may cause the family to have to think about other topics, but that will be good. Your family may have another topical downfall. If it tends to cause division, consider ruling that topic out for discussion this year, at least during the meal. Generally, the family is well aware of the opinions of family members on a variety of topics. Sometimes, we don’t want to hear a rerun of those topics every year.

But I have definitely been in this hard place with being around family myself over my lifetime. It is no fun! It is even less fun when you feel powerless to either speak up or defend yourself against some of the comments. The family meals are always a tension. Managing the tension can be stressful because we do love our family. We want them to think well of us. If our perception is that they don’t, it can be difficult…and hard on our digestion.

Pray that God will guard your mouth and help you to be wise in what you say and do during the holiday visits during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

5. Pray, Pray, Pray that GOD will watch your mouth and give you wisdom while at this family gathering. Maybe the best thing for you will be the side conversations you have with others in the family this year. Whatever comes of this year’s gathering, ask Him to keep you honest and wise, able to build up and not tear down.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Romans 15:1-2 ESV


This is an excerpt from an earlier post written 11/23/20.