Avoiding the annual holiday family free-for-all

by Melissa Jaramillo

Holiday Free for AllThe idea of family holiday togetherness may warm your heart. Reality might fill you with another emotion -- dread.

Do you suspect that your in-laws may have promised to love, cherish and antagonize one another?

Should your dad's sister wear a shirt that says, "I'm the crazy aunt they all warned you about?"

If so, your family's "holly, jolly Christmas" may be more like "the Grinch Stole Christmas."

When your yearly family gathering turns bad, it ruins everyone's mood.

Try these tips to prevent or reduce family conflict and keep your holiday bright.

Avoid the annual holiday family free-for-all

1. Be prepared for some conflict. Families don't always live up to our expectation for harmonious gathering. Unrealistic expectations and pressure may be partly to blame. If your two kids can't make it through a five-minute car trip without a dig or snarky remark, should you expect 14 family members to make it through an entire day without a disagreement?

Allowing room for differences allows family members to remain connected. My brother worked as a high school principal. I chose to home school, a combination that could cause conflict. Although we respectfully disagree over the philosophy of education, we decided to offer each other an olive branch -- choosing to focus on our common passion of inspiring kids to always seek knowledge.

2. Accept today's reality. Loving or even tolerating a difficult or unforgiving relative takes humility and determination. Your family may have an Aunt Theresa, whose favorite family activity is bringing out the cauldron of family stories and stirring up hurt. A roll of duct tape might be tempting, but the best solution may be to simply accept reality. Your mom criticizes your turkey, your husband forgets to plug in the lights and Aunt Theresa will behave as she always has.

3. Listen to each other. They may say, "We've got to talk!" You should hear, "I need to listen." If you quietly listen and try to see the situation through their eyes, the other person will feel better understood. Their "truth" may be different from yours, but as my grandpa would say, "Child, you don't have a monopoly on truth."

4. Don't engage. Even the most loving of clans may bicker. It's not your job to referee. You might, however, resort to some sneaky plans that keep hands busy and tempers mellow.

One family I know has an annual gingerbread house decorating "contest" at their get together. The houses are assembled and there's room and decorations for all.

Another goes through the box of decorations that have been passed down through the years. As each is unwrapped, it seems someone has a memory to share. And while they're focused on memories, the kids each make an ornament. One year, it's a clay hand print and the next it might be a beaded elf.

Should those activities fail you, try to remember that you really do love your spouse, parent, sibling or child when tempers flare.

5. Refocus -- your attitude and your energy. When a cousin nitpicks over details or a grandparent chooses to find it funny (or recognizing that it is simply a petty ridiculous move on her part) can be a better point of view. A sprinkle of humor may beat stress and change everyone's mood from bad to good.

Refocus your energy. Find common ground and choose a project that helps the less fortunate. Some "grinches" may choose to not join. Turning that energy toward making positive difference can be a unifying force and the good feeling will last throughout the holiday season.

Are you wondering how the family get-together will get derailed? What triggers holiday feuds in your family?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.