With the holidays approaching, I want to talk about the “elephant in the room.“ You know, that one thing that we all know is there, but don't like to acknowledge: FAMILY DRAMA!. If, on the other hand, someone reading this has a perfect family who never brings any drama to family functions, you can stop reading this now. For the rest of us, what follows is intended to help you navigate the often unpredictable waters of family dynamics without sinking your ship.
Think for a minute about the daily communication you have with the people that you live with. It likely took some time to learn the ins and outs of each person’s communication style. Maybe, for example, you had to learn over time that your spouse needs to be punctual to keep from feeling edgy or that your son hates large gatherings and is the most himself in his own home where things feel – predictable.
But holidays with friends and extended family always seem to bring new challenges. Why? Because you are spending time with people you aren't used to accommodating, as well as many more layers of personalities and preferences to consider, at times. It can all feel very overwhelming if you aren’t prepared for ways to deal with it.
What follows is a list of best practices for navigating larger groups of family and friends than you are used to, and learning to do so in a way that does not require a full year to recover from!
Hot Topics and Hot Buttons
We all have hot buttons. Hot buttons are those little invisible buttons we have that, when pushed with any precision, will get us immediately worked up. Maybe it’s politics. After all, it does feel like the world has never been closer to imploding and we all believe that the “other side” bears most of the responsibility. Or maybe it’s the latest virus (the Spanish flu, SARS, and many others were here long before we ever heard of COVID-19) and the vaccines that go with it. We all have opinions about these things and, remember, they are just opinions.
We must remind ourselves that the people in our lives, like the family and friends at your holiday gathering, are much more important than any issue of the day. Certainly, there may be days when you dream about trading one of your family members in for a goat or two, but in the end you would probably miss something great about those important people. So, avoid the hot topics and the hot buttons because people are more important than those other things. Besides, if you truly want to change someone’s mind, as opposed to winning an argument, that is best-accomplished one-on-one and far away from any holiday gathering.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
We have all heard the saying that, "Teamwork makes the dream work." If by "team" we are referring to a husband and wife that get along well most of the time, have each other's backs, and protect each other at all times, then yes, teamwork truly does make the dream work!
Tami and I talk often about this idea of #TeamUs and this is precisely what we are referring to. This means that family gatherings provide an opportunity for a husband and wife to show the world (or at least their family) some of the ways in which the two (each of you as individuals) really do become one. Talk to your spouse about any concerns before the family gathering. Maybe there is a certain family member who you feel likes to "back you into a corner." If so, be vulnerable enough to admit this to your spouse and ask for some backup. Or if you are worried about getting sucked into the latest no-win argument with someone at your party, give your spouse permission to rescue you — again. Remember that at the end of the day, you and your spouse need to be able to lay your heads on your pillows and know that you are still a force to be reckoned with as a team. Don't ever let anyone or anything come between the two of you.
Be Cordial When You Don’t Feel Cordial
There may be people at your gathering that you don’t like. Maybe you were invited to someone else’s event and had no control over the guest list. Maybe someone guilted you into inviting your “Crazy Aunt Karen” even though you would have been fine without her. Whatever the reason, you can handle it.
Your kindness and the way you treat others will be remembered long after the things you said have been forgotten, even if you are convinced that you said some brilliant things. Also, remember that when you allow yourself to get worked up about something, everybody in the room feels the negative impact. Think of being cordial and kind as your armor that protects you against getting pulled into any negativity. In addition, though not always, leading with kindness just may break the patterns of the past. However, even if past patterns are not broken, you will still have a plan to get you through the day without losing your mind and maybe you will appear to have channeled the kindness of Mother Teresa while doing it.
Grace and Forgiveness, the Sweetest Ingredients of All
We all want to enjoy good food and sweet treats while we are hanging out with family and friends, why not bring the sweetest ingredients of all – extra servings of grace and forgiveness? Maybe you have an unresolved issue with a sibling. Do you really need to address it over your Honey-Baked ham? Probably not. Or maybe you already know that your crazy, obnoxious, and highly-opinionated relative is going to push your buttons, like always. Why not choose grace and forgiveness as well as make the decision NOT to let your hot buttons be pushed and NOT to engage in decisive topics? Can you do that? Of course, you can! That is exactly what we do when that same relative shows up at our holiday gatherings. You didn’t think you were the only one with an obnoxious family member, did you?
The truth is we all want to receive abundant amounts of grace and forgiveness, but we often have trouble giving the same to others. Why is that? This year, make a decision before your gathering to lead with grace and forgiveness. When you do, you will breathe better on the drive home, trust us!
Remember What Holiday Gatherings are For
Tami and I believe that we are all created to be in relationship with others. We were not put here on this earth to occupy a deserted island alone. Having people in our lives causes us to grow, yes this includes the difficult people as well. So why not reframe how you view family gatherings? For you, maybe this is an opportunity to better understand why family pushes your buttons so easily instead of just avoiding them altogether. This year's gathering could be a reminder that you are blessed to have others around you (as long as you have them) who will always be there for you – even if you don’t always like them.
Are there people in your circle of family and friends who you love, but don't really like? Yep, us too.
Big People Who Try to Discipline Your Little People
Are you a parent who has had another adult step in and try to parent or discipline your children? Is it another adult who has no right stepping in and telling your kids what to do? Does it make your blood boil?
You can calm down now because I am going to give you a better way to handle that situation the next time it happens. Are you ready? Assume that the other person is trying to be helpful. I know that this will be hard to do, but I believe you can do it. You have two choices here. First, you can assume the worst of the person who is telling your child what to do, yell at them and make a fool out of yourself, then spend the entire drive home replaying the incident as well as lose sleep for several nights and fight with your spouse about it. OR, you can believe that the other person is trying to help (even if they do not do things the way you do) and say something like, "Goodness, I'm so sorry you had to deal with this. Thank you. I will take over from here so you can get back to enjoying your time with everyone." In the second scenario, you will look like a level-headed hero, you will not have to replay this scene in your head a million times on the drive home, and you will not end up in a fight with your spouse. Think about it.
Family will always be family. You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family. This is why we all need to do the best we can with the family we've got. If you get yourself into trouble with family and all else fails, just say, "Excuse me, but I need to get some more Honey-Baked ham." If the ham is in the other room, go get it. If you don't have any ham, go take a drive! BAHAHA!
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By Brad & Tami Miller. Copyright © 2021