If you are getting together with a large group of family members this Thanksgiving or Christmas, you want it to be a special and memorable holiday. Unfortunately, these annual gatherings can often bring out the worst in families. Old hurts can be rekindled and relationships can suffer.
I consulted with a panel of relationship experts to learn what you can do to avoid emotional complications this year. I listened to their advice and found it to be full of obvious platitudes that most people can figure out on our own. So like anyone else would do, I rejected their counsel and made up my own list of nine tips for typical messy families like most of us come from. If you try these, please take pictures and tweet @RELEVANT for the rest of us to enjoy.
1. Before your guests arrive, take the time to carefully consider the different perspectives that others in your family have. Only then can you fully appreciate how you’re going to counter all of them at every opportunity.
2. Instead of dividing family members into the “adult table” and “kids’ table”, scatter chairs and TV trays through every room of your house so that each person can dine in silence and solitude like they probably want to after being stuck in traffic for 7 hours.
3. If, however, you are a traditionalist and feel obligated to host everyone at a large table, make some “table talk” cards with questions like: “Which candidate did you vote for, the lying felon or the womanizing bigot?” or “Now, are you #TeamAniston or #TeamJolie?” You know, just to make things interesting.
4. Don’t correct, discipline, or even comment on the behavior of anyone else’s kids. Whoever said “it takes a village” also said “keep your mouth shut at gatherings of extended family.”
5. If you need to work through a conflict with your in-laws, don’t talk about it. Instead, challenge them to a battle of strength like arm wrestling or kickboxing. (I can usually take my mother-in-law in four or five rounds of traditional jiu-jitsu before I’m crying “uncle.”)
6. For the single adults in your family who often get upset when asked about their future prospects for marriage, go the extra mile by surprising them with a blind date/potential mate of your choosing. They will definitely appreciate the gesture in this lackluster dating environment. (For an extra special Christmas gift, a one-month subscription to eHarmony would be a nice touch and not inappropriate at all.)
7. If you begin to feel your emotions rising due to a particular issue or a difficult relative, give yourself a little personal space. I recommend the Caribbean.
8. Because memories can be filled with painful emotions, don’t ever talk about the past. Keep conversations centered on shallow and entirely meaningless current events. Like the Kardashians or what 90’s sitcom remake you’re looking forward to next.
9. Finally, if your family is made up of an unusually high percentage of dysfunction, you might consider changing your name and moving to a different country. If you should have an opportunity to enter the witness protection program, you should definitely take advantage of that.
A More Realistic Suggestion
Let’s face the truth: Nothing can fully eliminate the potential conflicts that might arise when big families come together. The awful advice in this list probably won’t work in most cases.
We love our families and we can always hope and pray that this year’s holiday will be filled with peace, joy and precious new memories. Perhaps the best way to make that happen is by basking in the grace that God offers us and then choosing as an act of will to offer that same grace to our families.
It also might help to lower the bar on our holiday expectations for our imperfectly normal Families. If we are hoping things will go without a single issue (even if they never have before), we are probably setting ourselves up for failure.
As your family holiday gathering draws closer, ask God to show you exactly what it looks like for you to obey His command in Romans 12:18. Paul writes: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Let’s cast aside our excuses & our need to be right and do whatever we must do to have a peaceful, conflict-free family gathering this year.
And if you decide to forget it all and head for the Caribbean instead, let us know.
We might join.