Take the Tension Out of Family Gatherings


November kicks off the holiday season. This is a time when families come together to celebrate. While sharing a table with your immediate and extended family can be festive and uplifting, it often brings feelings of resentment and even anger among family members to the surface.

Whether you come from a family where everyone gets along or a less predictable one where you dread family gatherings, a few tips can make these occasions more pleasant.

Addressing Unsolicited Parenting Advice

If you’re a parent, family gatherings can allow others to share their uninvited opinions about what you’re doing right and, more likely, what you’re doing wrong (in their eyes, at least)! If this is a frequent issue at your table, I suggest preparing a script for what to say when Uncle Bob or your sister-in-law begins commenting on your parenting skills.

It might go something like:

I realize you mean well and speak from concern and love, but these comments make me feel bad about myself and aren’t helpful. Please either stop or find something positive to say. This will make our time together much more enjoyable.

Banishing the Past

Sometimes, the people who should be closest to you, such as your siblings, are holding onto bad feelings from childhood. Harboring resentment can be one of the hardest things about family get-togethers.

Preparing in advance can be helpful here also. Remember that you cannot always change someone else’s words or actions but you can change how you react. Talk to yourself in advance. Remind yourself that whatever is happening is their problem and that you are an adult now and don’t need to respond to childish taunts anymore. If the situation becomes too upsetting, leave the table or even the room.

You might also try to find some time before or after a family event to tell your sibling or other relative that you want to move past any pettiness that might linger between you and leave the past in the past.

Create Rituals that Reflect the Joy of the Season

I’m a big fan of family rituals, as they help create happy memories that you can hold onto for years and create bonds between family members. Every family is different, so develop rituals that are meaningful to you.

Having everyone say what they are thankful for at Thanksgiving is a nice ritual many families enjoy. Perhaps you can create a special gift exchange ritual like the youngest, and the oldest family members swap gifts.

Maybe there’s a movie or TV show that your family especially enjoys during the holidays. Singing and dancing are great fun for everyone, so have the music queued up and ready to play, or pull out some sheet music and try a family sing-along!


If some family members don’t all share the same views, stay away from politics!

It’s unfortunate how uncivil discourse has become, but if a political topic comes up, be prepared to change the subject. In my home, I made a rule that political discussions were not allowed at the table and enforced that rule. These kinds of rules can apply to any “hot” topic.

Do you have more ideas? Share them in the comments!

Happy start to your holiday season!

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