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Family conflict at Christmas

The myth of Christmas is cosy, comforting, family togetherness. But those of us who come from actual families, know it’s just that—a myth.

If Christmas get-togethers are stressful, it can be helpful to think about your triggers beforehand and make a plan to reclaim Christmas—not as the perfect day, but as a day where imperfect individuals come together to love each other imperfectly. Which is actually something worth celebrating!

Weigh up your needs with your family’s needs: Differing family expectations are perhaps the biggest source of Christmas anxiety. Be clear with yourself about your needs (as opposed to wants). For example, you may not be able to manage multiple family visits on Christmas Day, or you know you’ll need quiet time on your family holiday to recoup. Everything is negotiable. Find a solution that balances your needs, with the needs of your family. You may not get the quiet holiday you crave, but you can still gently ensure you have a couple of hours to yourself each morning.

Watch for over-reactions: If you’re single and a friend asks you if you’ve met anyone, it opens up a conversation. But if your aunty asks, watch out! Suddenly you feel judged. This may be because of ‘cumulative annoyances’—those all-too-familiar habits (your mum is nagging again). Or it could be that a comment triggers your vulnerability. People hardly ever say things with the intention of hurting us, so try to respond graciously as you would to a friend.

See the need, not the behaviour: We all have bad behaviours, usually because we’re trying to get a need met. So when your mum sighs loudly and says, ‘No, don’t move, I’ll do the dishes (mutter)’, try to get past the annoying passive-aggressive habit and be kind enough to see her need. And go do the dishes!

See your similarities: You and your dad are totally alike … except you vote for different political parties. So when politics is discussed, it makes your blood boil. There’s a psychological term called the ‘narcissism of small differences’—meaning that when we are very similar to another person, we tend to get overly annoyed by our differences. We are probably more similar to our family than we’d like to admit, so focus on the similarities, and let the differences slide. And perhaps … don’t talk politics.

Christmas only lasts a short time. Choosing to offer large doses of grace, patience and kindness will help you see past small conflicts, and enjoy your family for all its quirky, flawed beauty.


by Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 10 December 2016, pp10
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.

Get through Christmas

  • Be realistic—if you can’t face three different Christmas dinners in one day or if gift-giving for everyone is a burden, be brave and change your traditions.
  • Be the helper—one of the best ways to avoid conflict is to help out … in the kitchen or on Santa duty. It brings a sense of fun togetherness.
  • Don’t bring up old conflicts—now is not the time to resolve ill feelings. But it is the perfect time to offer forgiveness and let go of old wounds.