For many, the holidays are a time for family reunions and connections, when generations gather around tables to enjoy meals and make memories. Yet, disagreements and divisions within families can range from awkwardness to arguments and even estrangement in some cases. Be it old resentments or jealous rivalries or differences in politics or religion, since the dawn of humanity, families have struggled with differences and how to coexist in spite of them. And, if families were more or less peaceable in years past, this contentious election year (and its accompanying angst) has caused rifts in millions of U. S. families.
So, how do we handle the holidays in the midst of a stressful time in our national life? And, as mothers, how do we model for our children peaceful and positive interactions with friends and relatives?
First, focus on the positive, and encourage your kids to do the same. As we know, our children often mimic our behavior, whether they are three or 13. Model positivity. Refrain from complaining in front of them about other family members. Don’t pass on your grudges and grumbling to your children. Work on transforming your attitudes. Like a good yogi, choose a word of intention or mantra that can become your focus. One of my favorite phrases I say (mostly) to myself is “Don’t dull my shine.” In other words, I am choosing positive energy and thankfulness, and you are not allowed to take that from me.
Second, don’t take the bait. Every family has that super opinionated and less socially savvy relative who is going to bring up the most controversial subject at the most inopportune time. And, nothing you say will change his or her opinion. You are not obligated to engage. One of my favorite phrases from Brian McLaren is, “I see that differently.” Practice it. Say it over and over. You are stating that you do not condone the other’s opinion but you are not getting sucked into a futile argument. To use a political slogan from this presidential election, “When they go low, you go high!” Or, if you prefer, “make Thanksgiving grateful again.”
Which brings me to my third and final point. These are the holidays, after all. The whole reason for all these family gatherings is to celebrate connections and to practice gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote to so much of what ails us: our anger and our disappointment, our pain and our loss. We have entire holidays centered around this very concept – use it to your advantage!
Have each person take a selfie with his or her gratitude hashtag, and make a collage. Put out an adult coloring page and have people work on it together. Let the children wear costumes, and make thankful crafts. Be proactive, and have conversation questions at the table where you select the topics that contribute to family sharing and bonding rather than divisiveness and bickering.
Let us be grateful, not because we want to repress our feelings and appear functional when we’re not, but because sometimes you have to first build and sustain an atmosphere of mutual trust and genuine love in order to have conversations that are hard and challenging. Let us be grateful because the world needs some gratitude right now as do the little eyes that are watching us from across the table.