During stressful holidays, offer kindness to relatives

Question: Do you have any advice for dealing with extended family members who don’t get along? My in-laws like to host big get-togethers with all the relatives, but they’re always marked by tension and dissension. I don’t want to offend my spouse or his parents, but I’m tired of all the conflict. Can you suggest a solution?

Jim: This a common situation — in home after home, family gatherings that are supposed to be filled with love and warmth end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. But “common” isn’t the same thing as “unavoidable.”

One option is to be honest. When you get an invitation, tell your in-laws that you appreciate their thoughtfulness, but aren’t going to be able to join the party. You don’t need to defend yourself or offer a long explanation. Just state your position and leave it at that. Naturally, you and your spouse will have to be in agreement on this.

A second choice would be to attend the gathering, but minimize your contact (if travel is involved, make plans to stay at a hotel rather than in your in-laws’ home). Tell them that you’re looking forward to spending time with them, but don’t want to get involved in a feud with other members of the family. If the party disintegrates into a shouting match, politely excuse yourselves and head for home.

There’s also a third option. You could approach the next family gathering with an entirely different attitude. Try to see it as a time for reaching out in kindness and grace, even when it’s hard. Look for opportunities to extend love to some unlovely people. In the process, you may end up having a bigger impact in all their lives than you might suspect.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.