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Some family traditions begin with the letters  AT: anger, turkey, tinsel and trauma. After looking forward to seeing our relatives again, especially since covid, we discover once again – that four solid days of eating and drinking ends in anguish and broken family relationships because we let our anger get in the way of loving each other. Instead of honoring our family members and their influence (good or bad as we learn from both), we fight over past hurts, things we can't change, who is the favorite "child", or who’s made the biggest mess of their life. If you find that when family reunion times have the same arguments time and again, with a little planning (and a few deep breaths) you can celebrate without anger, moaning, instigating, or threatening your siblings and relatives.

Here’s some techniques to consider:

The ‘Call that a job?’ fight
Do you sometimes suspect that your older relatives – especially your parents – willfully misunderstand what you choose to do for a living? The best way to stop them asking annoying questions is to focus on stating simply you are not there to talk about your job but to enjoy the time of togetherness and some other time you will be happy to explain your job and choice of career (or lack of).  Don't assume they are out to "get" you and talk about fun past experiences family has had, etc.
We all have had family at one time or another not "get" us or what we do but that is not your problem and is not your issue to solve.  Stay positive, and let them know you understand that they might have a hard time wrapping their head around your career/job but you enjoy it and that is what counts.

The ‘Would it kill you to help a little?’ fight
A good deed is its own reward – unless the good deed is setting the table, and you’re finding it much more rewarding to sit by the fire with a beverage. You can usually wriggle out of it by promising to lead the post-dinner clean-up – but then you realize that you’ve eaten an entire harvest’s worth of potatoes, your flies are undone and you’ll start a good nap if left alone.  Fight this urge and remember that others made the meal, decorated the house, deserve some help in clean up or anything else and don't assume you know what they need.  Being considerate, despite not wanting to, involves asking the hostess/host what you could do to help them in clean up as a "thank you."  This minimizes resentment and negative feelings from family about you being "old grandpa" needing a nap after holiday meals.
“This is rarely about labor,” says family counselor, Kim Hardy. “Families usually have fights about chores because people feel that they’re not being appreciated. So instead of promising something you might not be able to deliver, and making someone feel exploited, go out of your way to praise and comment on how well something has been done. You’ll make everyone feel special and dissolve any petty hierarchical tensions that might be building up.”

The ‘I’ve hated you since you were a baby’ fight
No matter how happy and well adjusted they appear, all families have secret, festering tensions, whether the disputes are based on births, death, divorce or a painted-pasta-based art project many years ago that was not received as favorably as the artist might have hoped.

If you’re a parent of scrappy siblings and you’re aware of their tendency to revert to type after a few drinks, you can manage the fights by making them feel like adults. “If it’s possible, try to keep the conversations based around what you’re all up to now,” Hardy suggests. “These sort of arguments almost always cover similar ground, so think about who tends to fight with who and create a peaceful seating plan.” If you have a history of flying off the handle, work on a “think before you speak” strategy. Family therapist Diana Mercer says: “It takes two to have an argument. If you refuse to take the bait for a fight, the fight can’t happen.”

If you’re hosting, there are a couple of practical steps you can take, such as managing the alcohol. If your bucks fizz is mainly orange juice, no one can get angry-drunk. Serve snacks so that no one ends up drinking on an empty stomach. You’d be amazed by how many fights could have been avoided if the participants had eaten an extra slice of toast at breakfast. If it’s appropriate and there’s room around the table, a guest from outside the family could be a civilizing influence.

The ‘No, I do not want to play Monopoly’ fight

Some people play games to win.  I had a family member that was one of those. He took all the fun out of playing a game with him until I changed my perspective and saw his competitive nature as humorous.  Some people want the happy family experience promised by the front of the box, and some people just want to antagonize their brothers and sisters. Christmas is the worst time of the year in which to try to get your own way. Put yourself out there by remembering you are not the center of the world and others count as important to life and family as much as you. If you’re complaining that you’ve spent 12 months looking forward to Twister, only to find that no one else wants to play, you probably need more games in your life during the rest of the year.

“Come Christmas time, it’s worth doing almost anything for a quiet life,” Hardy says. “If someone is really, really desperate to play Scrabble, it’s just quicker and easier than to join in than to spend an hour sulkily insisting on Monopoly.” If you genuinely hate games, pull a sad face, produce a bottle of Martinelli's, and tell everyone you’ll join them when you’re feeling better.

The ‘Just give me the remote!’ fight
In 2021, anyone can watch what they want at any time, as long as they have access to the internet, Roku, cable TV, etc., and to insist on only watching what you want to watch at a holiday family event is selfish and narcissistic.  It is not a "me" time but a "we" time and finding something everyone wants to watch means you ask what everyone would like to watch and majority wins.  I recently had a "in-law" who wanted to watch a movie and the 4 year old in the house had other ideas.  Because the older "in-law" made the decision to behave like the 4 year old, a "disagreement" followed with ultimately the 4 year old winning because of family intervention stating so.

This one is about weighing choices and the importance you place on what you want from the viewing experience. Is it about being in a room with your family, laughing along with them because it’s rare that you’re all in the same place at once? Or is it about unwinding and escaping from them? “Agreeing to watch what your family wants is a nice, low-impact activity, because you’ve all got to sit down and shut up,” Mercer says. “It’s less demanding than a meal or an outing. So if you want your family to feel like you’re making the effort, it looks good if you can sit through Frozen, or Das Boot.”

Alternatively, you can make a choice not to go to a family holiday event if they make you more angry because you allow family to trigger you rather than manage your emotional responses to what comes your way.


This is the correct decision to make every time, under all experiences, and especially during some family times you find challenging. Anger is an emotion that is manageable and with proper tools learned to help with that management, one can have a wonderful holiday time with family, friends, and co-workers.

If you find you are having an especially hard time during the holiday season, reach out to a anger management specialist who can help you learn better tools, habits, attitudes and beliefs about your anger.

Make your New Year the best year!!!

Written by Dr. Kathie Mathis