Tense Family Holiday Gatherings
How To Handle Tension at Big Family Holiday Gatherings
When the extended family gets together for a holiday, amidst the fun, awkward quirks and tense conflicts sometimes come out. This year may be worse than most.
The recent election brought some huge political differences to the fore. Close to half of the people who voted chose Donald Trump, and more chose Hilary Clinton, who lost the electoral college vote. Many extended families include people who really like Trump and people who really like Clinton. Some folks are thrilled with the election outcome, some are relieved, some are worried, some are depressed, and some are horrified. The topics of racism, sexism, religious prejudices, immigration, and class issues may come up during your holiday gathering. How will you and your family handle all this?
Some families are simply choosing not to get together. Members who kept a tense but polite silence about someone’s racism in past years don’t feel they can be silent now. Members who wish that recent immigrants would go away and never come back don’t want to converse with relatives who believe that immigration fuels our nation’s economy.
In some cases relatives are so toxic that just staying away is better. But in most cases, there is a lot of love and loyalty mixed up with the political or religious differences. In that case, what can you do?
My first suggestion is almost always this: LISTEN. If you can say it truthfully, say that you have a different view, and you would like to learn more about why your relative has the opinions and values that s/he has. Ask whether your relative would be interested in hearing why you hold your opinions and values. The goal should be not to convert or persuade each other, but to understand each other better. It helps.
Instead of asking yourself “Can we handle the disagreements in our family?”, ask yourself “How can we handle the disagreements in our family?” What a difference the word “how” makes! It shifts you from looking at the past and thinking about things that were impossible to looking toward the future and doing some creative thinking. Invite your relatives also to think about and talk about how you all can handle disagreements in your family constructively and peacefully.
If you are convinced that some relatives cannot discuss differences in a civil tone, consider whether everyone might agree that certain topics will not be mentioned. Everyone could agree to focus on the love and loyalty in the family and not talk about divisive political issues. That won’t help to heal our divided country, but it can help everyone enjoy their holiday gathering.
Most of us have a lot to be thankful for. Without pretending that the political problems don’t matter, we can choose to focus on gratitude.
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Professional family mediators facilitate constructive communication when relatives are having difficulty discussing something important. For a free consultation about whether family mediation would be helpful for you, contact Dr. Virginia Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.