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How to deal with family conflict

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Holiday fighting

The holidays are a time of family togetherness. We make great efforts to travel to be together during this time of year, and the air is fraught with expectation. It's going to be great, we tell ourselves. Sometimes it's just that - and sometimes it's definitely not.

Holiday fightingSometimes, in spite of everyone's best intentions, there is family conflict. People who get along perfectly well the rest of the year can devolve into arguments, and those who already have conflict may erupt into what seems like World War III.

Yes, there's stress

The holidays are a time of great stress for everyone in the best of times. Even if everything we are doing for the holidays are things we want to do and we find it enjoyable, it is stress. We are doing more and expecting more. Throw in a deepening recession and the stress can be more profound. But it's when we recognize the stress that we are best able to deal with it.

First, recognize your own stress. What is it that is making you anxious, and what, if anything, can you do about it? Is there stress that you can leave at the door when you go to family gatherings? Expectations that you can lower?

Memories of holidays past

The holidays also bring up memories, both good and bad. The holidays often are a time when we suddenly are children again in certain ways, and the memories of childhood holidays well up in us - sometimes idealized, and sometimes not so idealized. Even shared memories can feel vastly different to different people: we each remember and interpret based on our own unique personalities and experiences. Remembering and respecting that is important - and can help head off conflict.

Cut everyone some slack

The holidays are definitely a time to cut everyone - and I mean everyone - some slack. Look around a family gathering and probably every single one of them is feeling holiday stress of some kind. Even the kids. The long buildup of excitement and anticipation, the intensity of emotion, the busy-ness, the everything. It's easy to misstep and misinterpret - and definitely a time when every one deserves some extra wiggle room.

If all else fails

Sometimes, intensity of family and the holiday boils over and conflict does happen. If conflict can't be avoided, take as high a road as possible, and always use the Golden Rule: treat the other person as you want to be treated. Yes, it's hard when feelings are raw and bruised, but it makes a difference.

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