Preventing Family Feuds over the Holidays

December 1, 2011

By Kim Leatherdale

Family Fight over the HolidaysAs the host of a holiday gathering, few things are as difficult as family conflict.  Forget scheduling, cooking, cleaning, or buying gifts, family feuds are the toughest things to deal with.  How can you manage them without the holidays becoming a war?

The Key to a Conflict Free Holiday

You manage expectations.

Let’s look at the following senario to see how managed expectations help things run smoothly.  Our hosts are Margaret and Phil who are having a holiday gathering of their three children, their spouses and the seven grandchildren.  The monkey wrench?  Two of their adult children, Petra and Jules, haven’t been talking to each other for more than a year.

Preparing Yourself for a Conflict Free Holiday

What can Margaret and Phil do to avoid a family fight during their holiday?

First they manage their own expectations.  Phil reminds his wife that Holidays won’t be perfect because humans are imperfect.  They both agree the day will be the best it can and they will do the best they can.  Margaret sighs but remembers that even though it is a Holiday the rift between her children won’t be miraculously healed.  She says to Phil, “That only happens in movies.”  All they want from their kids is tolerance not transformation that day.

Phil and Margaret also discuss the possibility their children may not be able to get together civilly.  They realize they can ask but not demand.  Additionally they talk about what is important to them and agree to negotiate for those things.  They really want to see all the children and grandchildren, so they decide ahead of time they may be willing to split the day so Petra and Jules come at different times.

Preparing Others to Avoid Family Fights

Peaceful Family GatheringNext Margaret and Phil need to manage their children’s expectations.  They speak individually with Jules and Petra about the type of behavior they would like at the gathering.  In the past arguments, silent treatments, or scenes were the norm, but Phil and Margaret make it clear they are not acceptable this time.  They outline the idea of tolerance for the day and express they aren’t asking for transformation.  They remind their adult children this is a single day and Phil says “You call can do something you struggle with for a few hours.”  They ask their children if they can be respectful responsible adults for this one gathering.

It is alright if Jules or Petra honestly say they aren’t sure they can keep respectful and polite.  Now is not the time for Phil or Margaret to take sides.  It is better to know ahead of time and make alternate plans than ruin the day for everyone.  If both adult children agree to come and be pleasantly polite, it is something to be appreciated.

Other Ways to Reduce Holiday Gathering Stress

Lastly, Margaret and Phil can do a few more things to help the day go well.  They keep the gathering short so as not to over-stress Jules and Petra.  By making the day a short success, it is more likely to happen again.  They give Petra and Jules ways to get away from each other during the celebration- have Jules help with the dishes, let Petra take a walk with her husband, or other such things.  This also decreases the tension on them.  Phil and Margaret don’t take sides, no matter how they feel.  This is between Jules and Petra.  They talk about how family ties are always there through thick and thin, but they aren’t always easy.  They focus on the grandkids getting to see each other and the meaning of the Holiday.

Family isn’t always easy, but hopefully by managing expectations Margaret and Phil (and you) will have a wonderful Holiday season where family feuds happen another day.

Kim Leatherdale About the Author: Kim Leatherdale is a licensed professional counselor and relationship blogger. She offers on-line, phone, and in office counseling and relationship coaching. For more information visit her website: CreatingRewardingRelationships, Facebook page: CreatingRewardingRelationships, or Twitter account: HappyCoupleXprt

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  • WorkingBoomer

    I am so glad to see an article such as this written. I am now left with no family to share the holidays with each year. I remember when there were a lot of us. We all should get along and make each moment special because there will be a time that each person will understand that very reason. Thank you for posting.

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