December 6, 2021


I always look forward to gathering with relatives at the end of the year and it saddens me that so many people feel anxious about family time. Even the tightest-knit families have plenty of friction. Whether we enjoy ourselves or simmer with frustration is mostly up to us.

Families know how to push our buttons. The men in my family have always enjoyed needling each other and provoking a reaction. Even when we don’t mean to bug each other, time together always surfaces old sensitivities, annoyances, and disagreements. Sometimes I think we’re just waiting for the chance to rehash old conflicts.

While some see this as a problem, I think it’s just human nature. We grow and change through our lives, but our relatives remember us as we were. We see and treat each other as the (less mature) people we used to be. It’s irritating. It can also cause us to actually regress into thinking and feeling as we used to in years gone by.

The key to enjoying family time is simple. Don’t let ‘em get to you. I know, it’s easier said than done. But it’s doable. I like to treat family gatherings like a game. Whoever gets upset loses. Winning leaves me feeling relaxed and happy, and now I can handle anything my relatives throw at me.

This year may be more challenging than usual. Our politics and culture are deeply polarized and there’s so much to disagree about. People are finding it easier to find fault with each other. Everybody is a little more touchy than usual. Add normal family annoyances and you can easily end up with an explosive brew. Don’t let things go that way!

The classic rule for keeping the peace is to avoid politics, religion, and money. I think this is unnecessary. Talk, but be respectful. Even better, be loving. They say you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and the same goes for debating with family. We’re more persuasive when we listen than when we argue, and we sense emotional intentions through tone, body language, and facial expressions. Make sure your intentions stay positive.

If you have a family, remember to be grateful for them. Fate could just as easily have left you all alone. If your family is close enough that they want to gather for the holidays, that’s a double-blessing. These are your people. For better or worse, we’r  e connected to our families for life. Even the most frustrating relatives almost always have some redeeming qualities. Worst case scenario, they’re here to teach us to be stronger, more aware of different perspectives on life, and more emotionally resilient.

Learn to handle pretty conflicts without getting upset and the blessing of family will blossom. Then, your winter holidays will be full of joy.

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