Q Both my husband and I have extended family coming to our house to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. It’s been a long time, since before the COVID-19 shutdown that we’ve all gotten together. We want to make our family gathering special for our three children ages 5, 8, and 14. We want the children to know and interact with their relatives. One big concern is that our families have become very divided over several issues such as:  COVID-19 protective measures, prejudices, religion and political issues from the past two years. There are lots of things we could argue about. What ideas do you have for us to make sure our days spent with relatives are peaceful?


My overall tip to you is to keep everyone busy so they don’t have time to argue. Instead, enjoy working and playing with each other. The following suggestions will help you do this.

  1. Give everyone jobs to do to help with the dinner and with the day. You could have a jobs jar for adults and one for kids with job slips inside for guests to choose from. Praise and thank everyone for their help.


  1. Think of one compliment you can give each guest and say it to them sincerely.


  1. Advise all family members that some topics are off limits. For example, politics, COVID-19 and religion. (In my family it was best to avoid all talk about the country my uncle had fought against in a war.) All families have hot topics to avoid.


  1. Bring up and share happy memories. You could have everyone bring old family photos and display them. Or have everyone with a cell phone choose their favorite photos from the past couple of years and share them with the whole group. Give everyone time to talk about what makes that memory special.


  1. Use empathy and forgiveness. Put yourself in the other person’s place and try to understand their behaviors. If a family member hurt your feelings in the past, do your best to forgive them and move on.


  1. If someone tries to push your buttons and upset you, excuse yourself and take a walk. Another option is to say something like “You’re hurting my feelings (or upsetting me) but I can’t imagine that’s your intention.”


  1. Plan games to involve everyone. Ideas include Pictionary, two truths and a lie (everyone guesses the true statement) or a white elephant gift exchange.


If you can keep all your guests busy, I think your holidays with them will be not only peaceful but fun for everyone.


Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.


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