7 Thanksgiving Strategies to Help with Messy Family Relationships
Life is messy and God is good! There is no better test of that motto than Thanksgiving. We get to gather, stuff our faces and muddle through the messiest of messy relationships: family! The super cool and annoying thing about family is that they keep coming around. In all of our other relationships, we get to just slowly drift apart when we aren’t clicking. Family relationships can be the most special and amazing but those expectations also make them the most emotional and trying. Here are a few tips I’ve learned and am learning about navigating messy relationships during the holidays:
- Filter your words! Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3
I joke about the poor little soldier angel that got stuck being the guard over my mouth. He has a tough job because he is bombarded all day long with stuff that shouldn’t get through. Things that are mean, emotional, judgmental, and just plain stupid. With the constant onslaught, he lets a lot of those things slip through! But when it comes to family, the words come with extra force because they are being pushed by a freight train filled with a lifetime’s worth of emotional baggage!
Most people in our culture hate the idea of not fully expressing yourself. I look at things differently. I think there is a great deal of freedom in thinking about what I want to filter through to my family during the holidays. I get to choose what I share with them. I choose not to be controlled by emotional insecurities and triggers. I want to love my family and enjoy them during the holidays. It helps to purposely choose (and PRAY) to have a guard over my mouth.
- Pray constantly. I’m quite aware of how psycho I sound when I discuss this, but I have an inner dialog going with God all day long. I believe he is actually with me all the time. (My actions often suggest otherwise, but I’m growing…) So, in conjunction with the guard that is filtering my words, I also have a discussion with God as I’m relating to family.
It goes something like this (my inner voice sounds like Madea) “Jesus are you hearing this. I need to smack him upside the head. I know he didn’t say that. He is such a jerk. I’m gon show him how much I learned to swear in RI… then he will have something to judge me for…”
I then hear something annoying and calming like “Is he really judging you or are you too sensitive?!”
Grrrrr… and usually, thankfully I don’t go off on my sweet little uncle that asked me if there was any fudge left!!! LOL
- Seek to understand before being understood. It is amazing how your relationship with someone changes the second you change your focus and honestly commit to understanding them.
For help with this, I always look to the fine example given by the guys at American Pickers! These two guys, Mike and Frank can walk into all kinds of eccentric collectors houses and never bat an eye at their unusual lifestyles. I've seen them walk into homes where people had to step over their collections to walk through their hallway. The chat with them and listen to their stories. The reward? Mike and Frank get to dig through all of these crazy messes looking for treasure.
That’s the perfect picture of relationships. All people are created in the image of God with the potential for love and goodness. Sometimes it takes a lot of digging to find this goodness, but when you shovel through the mess, there is always a treasure in there somewhere.
I’m working on this and I’m not always there. I still whine about not being understood. But when I do sit down and really try to understand the other person, I’m always surprised and blessed.
- Laugh – Laughter is a beautiful thing! It eases tension, breaks down walls between people, and creates a bond over shared experiences. (As long as it’s not mean-spirited laughing at someone’s expense) The easiest place to start creating laughter is by being confident enough in yourself to be vulnerable and share your inner goofiness.
Humor is very personal and it takes a great deal of social skill to be able to pull it off. I’m constantly offending people when I think I’m being hilarious. So much so that I think I should get a tattoo that says, “if you found what I was saying offensive, forgive me, I was trying to be funny. Unless you were being a jerk, then I meant to offend you.” I just haven’t been able to pick the right design!
If you don’t know how to be funny, I refer you to one of my great sources of wisdom and knowledge: wikihow:
- Focus on the positive-Sure your crazy aunt that you lovingly refer to as Aunt Dufus, bought you an ugly dog marionette and a book about puppeteering and thought it was super cool, but you have to look past that and realize that she loves you a lot despite being clueless about who you are and what you like! (True story and I’m Aunt Dufus!) LOL
Families are full of messed up people with different personality traits all vying for attention and affirmation. There is something positive in all of them. The fact that they showed up for the gathering shows that they care at least on some level.
And heated arguments? they show passion. I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. A person that gets too heated in arguments is desperate to be understood and accepted.
Gross food: somebody tried to cook from scratch instead of buying stuff. That shows effort and caring. Besides, maybe your tastes are wrong! (LOL) Like all of my relatives that don't like sage in their stuffing or think dumplings are nasty!
Political disagreements: Uhhhmmm good luck! LOL Just like any other disagreement, people generally want to be heard, understood, and respected, even if you don’t agree.
- Accept people for who they are. Don’t try to fix your crazy Aunt Dufus. That crazy took 46 years to develop, you aren’t going to fix it over Thanksgiving dinner! Just prepare yourself for it and embrace the craziness for a day.
We are all dealing with more than anyone else can ever know. Accept the imperfections and quirks in others and learn to look past annoyances. Don’t pick Thanksgiving dinner as the time to confront your cousin on her bad relationships or your uncle about how racist he is.
Genuinely try to love and appreciate all of your family for who they are and save changes for between holidays.
- Develop a strategy for dealing with real problems. With families, there are often real hurts and issues that need to be faced. If you have a real issue with a family member that you will be seeing over the holidays, make a plan for how you will sort through the problem at a later time.
For example, if you have a crazy Aunt Dufus in your life who is constantly insulting you at family gatherings, plan on ways to cope during the holidays, but also plan to meet with Aunt Dufus and let her know how you feel. Establish clear boundaries, expectations, and consequences for your relationship if she doesn’t change.
Going into a family gathering with a rational plan for confronting problems later is an excellent way to help you feel empowered to overlook insults.
Real relationships take work. We have to deal with the messiness of misunderstandings and other issues. And that’s awkward and uncomfortable, but I promise it’s worth it.
And if your Aunt Dufus is like this Aunt Dufus, you might find that she is actually pretty caring beneath her sarcastic big mouth and desperation for approval!
I hope these few lessons from my messy holiday relationships help you have a great Thanksgiving!
Wishing you blessings in your messiness!