How to Have Drama-Free Extended Family Holidays

“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (CSB)

Our family always looks forward to spending time together decorating at the holiday season. Picking out a tree and donning it with our well-loved vintage ornaments, while also sipping homemade hot cocoa together, just can’t be beat. However, if I am honest, sometimes the images I spy of other’s décor during the holiday season can deflate my festive spirit and send me instead into a frosty funk.

The Comparison Trap

A stunning home appears on my television screen complete with color-coordinated décor, an inviting roaring fire, and stunning packages under the Christmas tree that look as if they were wrapped at a high-end department store.

Then, I glance around my home.

I see ordinary decorations donning our humble tree and gifts wrapped with commonplace paper topped off with tags from the dollar store. And I use the term “wrapped” rather loosely. I’m all thumbs when it comes to holding a roll of tape while also trying to create crisp creases and edges. I usually opt for an easy-open gift bag instead.

Social media blows up with taunting images too. A holiday dining table dotted with gourmet foods. Clever crafts. Incredible traditions. All of these can make me feel my holiday season is “less than” by comparison.

But the images that prompt the most “must-be-nice” feelings in me are the ones of the families gathered together. And they’re not just gathered. They also appear to be getting along!

Lots of Different

Family time around the holidays can be rough. Different personalities, lifestyles, schedules, religious beliefs, and political views — even the opinions on who should bring the pumpkin pie this year — can all make for an interesting, even explosive, yuletide gathering.

I used to enter time with extended family with the goal of everyone behaving. No outright fights, sarcastic statements, or backhanded comments. While it didn’t always happen, when it did, it was usually due to one particular relative who loves to sling their opinions throughout family events. Before each family gathering with this person, I hoped and prayed that none of their caustic and cruel comments were slung my way. But rarely did that happen.

Instead, I had my parenting skills subtly slammed, my method of mashing potatoes called into question, and worse. As a result, my hopes of a happy family gathering were dashed, and my feelings got repeatedly — and deeply — hurt.

A Simple Way to Control Your Own Actions

Over the years, I have found a tool that helps me when entering into interactions with the in-laws and out-laws. I simply apply a principle from a practical and helpful verse—Romans 12:18: If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I am not single-handedly responsible for bringing peace to the family gatherings. I can’t close the curtain on every scene of drama. I can’t force others to be nice. But I can control my words and actions. I can make sure what I say doesn’t contribute further to the tension or escalate a minor squabble into a family feud.

As far as it depends on me, I can behave.

I can change the subject. Speak in a calm and collected tone when answering the combative person. Or just simply keep my mouth shut and say nothing at all. I can leave the room and go play with the children. Go into the kitchen and quietly do the dishes.

I’ve learned I don’t need to say every single thing I’m thinking. Or even half the things I’m thinking!

I can purpose to pray and weigh. Pray that the Lord will help me know if I should speak or remain silent. And weigh each word I do say, asking myself if it is totally appropriate, completely necessary and ultimately gracious.

Let’s Make a Pledge This Holiday Season

Will you too take the “As far as it depends on me” pledge this upcoming holiday season? Then, when another family gathering is in the books, we can look back and see that we did not contribute to any of the drama that might have ensued, but instead we chose — to the best of our ability — to create or keep the peace. We can then put on our coats, give a round of goodbye hugs, and leave the family gathering guilt-free, with no regrets.

Well, except for that second piece of pumpkin pie.

Karen Ehman

If you would like more help controlling your tongue with others—family and friends alike—check out Karen Ehman’s New York Times best-selling book Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing At All.

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