Tips to Ease Family
Tension During the Holidays

I love the holiday season so much that I’m one of those people who starts planning Christmas in July. And I go all out every year, starting from Halloween and ending after New Year’s brunch. While the holiday season can certainly be stressful, I (mostly) enjoy all the planning, shopping, decorating, gifting, cooking, and baking that leads up to that special family time we get to spend together. If only I was a good cook!  But I do it for my family. I just love how much my guests appreciate seeing a beautiful Thanksgiving tablescape or a thoughtfully set up guest bedroom, and it brings me so much joy watching my Granddaughter’s faces when they see our Christmas tree lit for the first time or when they discover their gifts from Santa.  

But managing the holidays with married adult children is very complex. You have to consider so many family schedules and in-law dynamics when it comes time to plan the holidays, that even choosing a day and time that works for everyone plus their in-laws can be complicated. After all the work we put in to organize and accommodate, someone inevitably gets offended or hurt, and we end up in the middle of a huge family argument that just taints the holiday spirit. We pray for that perfect, holiday together, but sometimes we feel disappointed because a Grandchild had a meltdown, a sibling fight broke out, or someone sulked in the corner because their feelings were hurt.

As wonderful as it can be to spend the holidays together, all those different personalities in one place just breeds tension that can lead to disappointing clashes. But with just a little thoughtful planning, you can create a calm environment that will diffuse the tensions before they even have time to build. 

While I can’t promise you that a family member won’t make an insensitive remark about your decorating/weight gain/cooking (ha!), here’s some advice to help ease family tensions during the holidays.  

  • Be flexible – With so many people involved, someone has to be flexible and it might as well be you! If you always host your family for the big holidays, change things up this year. Offer to celebrate the holidays the weekend or day before. Create a holiday rotation, so you get to host your family on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day while your in-laws host the family on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Your children will appreciate not being put in a position to once again have to pick which family to spend the holidays with, while your in-laws will truly appreciate your flexibility.  


  • Lower expectations – I love watching a marathon of Hallmark holiday movies with my children and Grandchildren, but boy do they ruin the holidays for so many people. It’s just not realistic to expect a Hallmark-perfect holiday–and trying to live up to what we see online or in the movies is just setting us up for failure. In the South, we expect that our tables will be set beautifully with our finest china, and everyone will gather around to rejoice and enjoy a delicious, holiday meal. But sometimes you burn the yams, or your Uncle Bert gets sick and can’t make it at the last minute, while your Aunt Judy gets angry or upset. By lowering expectations at the outset, you’ll feel less hurt and disappointed if any of the above actually happens. Try to just enjoy the day for what it is, a time to spend with your loved ones. 


  • Depressurize through scents – Did you know that certain scents can actually create a relaxed environment? Some studies have shown that the scent of lavender, vanilla and orange helps people relax. Burning scented candles and playing soothing music throughout your holiday gathering will set the mood while keeping the atmosphere nice and relaxed. 


  • Set the right tone Keep the conversation happy, light and holiday focused while hosting your family over the holidays. Before we carve the turkey or dig into the Christmas ham is just not the right time to harass your son about dropping out of college or blame your sibling for not pulling his weight when it comes to taking care of your elderly parents. If you struggle to keep the atmosphere light and happy, take the pressure off of conversing with some board games. Every Thanksgiving, my Dad brings a trivia game that we all just love. 


  • Get in the holiday spirit with self-care – Not everyone has an easy time during the holidays or at family gatherings; work on yourself and your issues before seeing your family over the holidays. If you are upset or angry about something specific, try to work it out before everyone gets together. Sometimes we also push ourselves too hard leading up to the holidays, make sure you take some time for yourself before your guests arrive. Take a power nap or treat yourself to a mani/pedi so you feel relaxed and good about yourself. 


Are you nervous about family tensions during the holidays? What do you do to keep the atmosphere tension free during your family gatherings? Share with us in the comments!


Tell Next Time, 

Lori Allen

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