4 Steps for Family Harmony at the Holidays

Every year it happens… you are faced with inviting relatives or friends that you may have difficulties with to your holiday gathering. We think to ourselves do we cave in and invite them or take a stand against their unpleasant behavior. I’d suggest that this method of either/or thinking boxes us into an uncomfortable and potentially damaging situation. Instead consider taking some different integrated steps to balance the situation and spread harmony in your family.

1. Families are Units: Cousin Wilbur’s loud talking aside our families, both blood and chosen, are units meant to work together. That person who so annoys you at the holidays (and maybe the rest of the year) is there for a reason. Even if you are hard pressed to find redeeming qualities that doesn’t mean everyone else agrees with you. Having emotional elasticity and developing a predisposition to being flexible is a sign your spirituality is developing. Allowing your judgements to drive a wedge between your family members, even if its only in your own head, can create needless difficulty for you and others.

2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a blind eyes: While we can strive to be open, forgiving and non-judgemental down deep we all have behaviors that we find difficult to stomach in others. Operating from compassion doesn’t mean you check your standards at the door. It means you find healthy ways to address the issue. Does cousin Wilbur talk too loud because he can’t hear? Have a direct, one-on-one conversation to find out if really his hearing aid is just broken and he doesn’t know how to fix it. Does Aunt Tamara always criticize your food? Take her for coffee and find out if she is just feeling lonely and insecure at the holidays. Share with her that it troubles you when she criticizes your food and ask her to help you prepare something she truly likes. Heart centered, direct communication in a private setting can often yield information just under the surface of our family relationships.

3. Timing is everything: At the holidays people’s emotions run high. Longing for relatives who have passed on, insecurities about money or weight and marriage difficulties can all increase in intensity. If you know trouble brews ahead find a strategy to deal with it before your first gathering. But first, have a heart to heart with yourself to decide if this is a battle worth fighting right now. The scale and intensity of the issue is as important as the issues itself. Be mindful that a conversation in March is very different from one leading up to or worse AT your holiday gathering.

4. Be honest about your own shortcomings: It is very easy to cast judgement upon others. It is much harder to realize that you too have behaviors that drive people crazy. The only change you are in charge of is within so take a moment to see if there’s something you can do to make the holidays more harmonious. Does your sister always ask you to come early but somehow you are always late? Does someone in your family have to do the clean up duty every year? The value of looking within is that it helps us to clarify what we see without. Start with yourself!

These principles can be applied to much deeper issues, however, they require more time and care. Looking within, choosing your timing and having positive boundaries communicated with compassion can create a more connected family unit. No matter which holiday you are celebrating many of us desire a sense of connection with our fellow humans, especially during the naturally introspective winter months. Make a commitment to try to bring others together at this time of year. You will feel better and your efforts will build skills you can use year round!