4 Ways To Avoid Family Conflict This Holiday Season

I understand all too well that going home for the holidays does not always conjure up feelings related to the beauty and wonder of snowflakes and the joy and delight of spiked eggnog!


Ten years after the death of my father, my mother married Stan. My experience of Stan was not full of positives. For me, he was cold, harsh, unengaging, not physically affectionate, and did not like being around me and my four siblings much. Based on Stan’s demonstration it seemed he wanted my mom, but didn’t want much to do with her children—especially me, as I was the youngest and the only one still living at home.
They married when I was 16 after  four years of dating, and I was out of the the house 15 months later. 
For the next 25 years when I visited home for the holidays, I was faced with my deep feelings of blame, anger, and frustration for what I believed he had done to my life and my mom’s…while he continued to do daily living as Stan did. A mix of sarcasm and harsh words that seemed meant to hurt and poison human souls. Control and manipulation were his weapons of choice to remind us all he was the boss and he was in charge.  

I recall the many times walking into the house with a lump in my throat, and an ache in my stomach, only to hear those all too familiar words:

"Oh, so you decided to finally show up!”

“Why do you always need to be so loud and eccentric, do you think you are something special?” 

Or my least favorite comment, “So who is the new boyfriend this year?!" All said with his sideways glances and sneers.
Never once did I hear, "Hi, how have you been? Glad to see you."
Year after year after year. 

And then one holiday I just stopped…

I stopped allowing him to control my experiences with his behavior. I had finally learned a better way. I stopped taking what he had to say, and the way he treated me personally. I stopped working hard to please him and for him to say words I desperately wanted to hear. “I believe in you, you matter, and I am sorry.” I stopped pretending that there were not challenges between us and that the father/daughter experience that I so longed for was not going to happen.

I stopped bracing myself for an onslaught of misery and was able to begin enjoying myself instead.
He passed away in 2012 at the age of 93. I did not cry at his funeral, but I can honestly say… 

Thank you Stan, thank you for the role you played in my life. 

See, I used to be so afraid of conflict. A raised voice or a demeaning tone would shut me down quicker than a clock ticks off a second! The need to be liked ran my life show at all costs. I was a hard core people pleaser. 
What Stan gave to me was years of practice embracing my emotional pain and working through high conflict. He helped me practice feeling good about myself even though he didn’t accept me. He helped me learn how to  say what I needed to say with strength respect and confidence even when it scared me to death.
Ultimately, he freed me from some of my deepest fears and caused me to become a skilled experienced relationship mediator.
What I learned boils down into 4 steps that you can easily do, too.

4 Ways For Managing Family Conflict
This Holiday Season:

These 4 wise moves are what finally made it possible for me to begin showing up to holiday gatherings feeling good, and leaving the celebrations feeling just as good in spite of how Stan chose to show up himself.
1. Realize that YOU have a choice.

When it comes to emotions and upsets, we forget very easily that we have a choice, not about feeling the feelings themselves, but what we are going to do with the feelings once we feel them.
Most of us wonder: Huh? What do you mean? I gotta do something!
We don’t understand that there is a choice to be made in these moments, simply because we have not been taught how to manage and navigate our feelings.
How we have been taught to deal with our upsets is to blame others or work hard to convince them that we are RIGHT. These become the go-to answers of getting rid of the pain we feel. We choose blame and shame, and working hard to be right rather than making the choice to calm our inner self by spending some time with are feelings long before we show up for the party.
You get to decide how you will show up for the party!

2. Embrace that you are the peacemaker
If you are reading this blog, which you are…YOU are the peacemaker. You have been chosen for the position. How do I know?
You are the person looking for ways to alleviate the turmoil and how to show up differently. This is not an accident, and I applaud you!

Peacemakers that have paved the way for you and provide examples of what being a peacemaker looks like are Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi. I bring this to light only to show you that being a peacemaker does not mean you’re a wimp. Peacemakers have a strong personal truth within and they take an equally strong respectful stand on these truths regardless of the opinions and criticisms of others.
How do you act as the peacemaker? Peace begins from within. You create peace by upholding and supporting your personal truths. 

3. Take action to gain clarity about your personal truth.
Our personal truths can be discovered by following the track of our feelings. And feelings become quieted by simply acknowledging them. 
It’s much easier to receive personal truths from our emotions when you are feeling calm, instead of in the heat of the moment. So  Long before the family gathering, explore your feelings by exploring some important questions below, and then... really listen.
An idea of how to explore your feelings: 

  • Acknowledge them: Oh hello there feelings! I feel you. Imagine yourself at the gathering, and allow the feelings to come up when you are in a quiet calm space.
  • Name them: what are your feelings saying to you? Give them a name.  Personally, I find it very helpful to write them down like bullet points. Bottom line is Get them out so you can examine them.
  • Accept them (as best you can): Look and see if what is being said in the conflict that just might be true or have a thread of truth that needs to be accepted? This one is the hardest for most of us humans. It sure was for me!!  It is very difficult to admit what might be true when it hurts so bad. I had a teacher once say,  “When you remain defensive you remain stuck!”
  • Direct them: What do I want to do now?

 Here is an example of how this worked for me.

Stan would say, “You’re so loud and eccentric!"

  • I acknowledged and named my feelings: I doubted myself, I felt there was something wrong with me, and deeply wanted acceptance..from everyone.  
  • I accepted them: Was this true? Yes, I was loud, and I do have an eccentric personality. And just because he could not appreciate and accept it, didn't mean I couldn't! When I stopped being defensive about it, I could understand what I really wanted was the freedom to express more of this part of myself. The truth is...I like bright colors, I like to wear hats, and I really wanted to learn how to speak up for myself...oh wait, I do like me.
  • I directed them: I decided that what I would do was quit fighting to convince Stan being loud and a bit eccentric was ok and didn't mean I was a bad person. Instead I allowed myself to express who I was. I continued to dress the way I wanted, and express my thoughts and feelings respectfully regardless of his comments.

I call this framework emotional weightlifting. As you do it, you will find that you build your understanding of your personal truth little by little just like lifting weights to develop your physical muscles.
Keep in mind that disputes will continue as long as someone feels unjustly treated. Disputes let us know that something more is needed. Perhaps it's more love, more understanding, more gratitude, more hope, or connection. And when one person changes how they show up, it changes the experience for everyone.
When I stopped fighting, and began to make an effort to calm my inner self by understanding my personal truth, I no longer needed to lash out at Stan. Oh sure, he still chose to show up in his usual manner, but it didn't affect me like it once did. And I could instead create more moments with other family members and not spend my precious time boxing with Stan.
I gave what I wanted from him to myself...more love, acceptance, and clarity about what I was doing and why I was doing it. I showed up differently because I felt differently. After I did that, his harsh demeaning behavior did not affect me. 
Funny thing is when I stopped preparing for battles before the party it was not long before he stopped attacking. Over time, we became respectfully tolerant of each other, and he took his lashing out elsewhere. I was no longer looking for his approval, I didn’t care about his opinion, he could throw out nasty words and behavior, and I could finally walk away with a smile and say...geez, I kind of like me.

4. Believe in your ability to show up differently.
By now I hope that you realize you have the ability to make a choice about how you respond to and direct your feelings. You have been invited to accept and embrace that you are a peacemaker, and  have taken some action towards connecting with your personal truth through your feelings; all that is left now is to believe in yourself and honor your personal truths.
You now know how to show up to the family gathering differently. 
I must say...there is a beautiful thing that happens when you show up and honor YOU.

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What’s YOUR #givingstory? 

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

We’re joining the movement and the conversation this year, and more than anything—we want to share this experience with YOU, and empower you to participate in giving of your time, donation, goods or your voice either alongside us to some of our favorite organizations making a difference…or to those you believe in. 

Things We Love:

Taylor Swift playing this brand new New Year song for Jimmy Fallon’s late mom, Gloria. 

This one really got us in the feels. 1) This is an awesome new song from Taylor, and one we think will have plenty of meaning as we enter the holiday season and 2) Taylor played it for Gloria, Jimmy Fallon’s mom who just passed away. Hint: the hug at about 3:40 is worth the listen. 

And...this is our favorite homemade Cranberry Sauce recipe! 

Photo Credit:  The Pioneer Woman

Photo Credit: The Pioneer Woman

Get recipe here.

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