How to Navigate Family Dynamics During the Holidays

Honor your inner voice, while respecting theirs.

By Brandy Joy Smith
blue tablescape for thanksgiving

As women, many of us have been raised to always priorize everyone else’s feelings; to do what we can to make everyone feel comfortable. In the process, we often put our own feelings aside, and we bite our tongues to keep the peace. As we enter a season of gathering (although on a smaller scale) I can’t help but think about all of the family dynamics we will be juggling. Not to mention the hot button issues that seem so prevalent in our everyday life that are likely to come up around the dinner table.

Over the holiday season, we may be dragged into conversations that we didn’t really want to have or overhear comments that might not sit right with us.

As a mother, I’m here to tell you that your voice is not the one to diminish. In a time where it seems so many are quick to disregard each other’s points of view, feelings, and opinions; I know once again that, as a mother, it’s my responsibility to lead the way in this teaching. So today, I want to share my tips on finding common ground with someone with whom you disagree, while setting an example for your children to honor their inner voice (while respecting someone else’s).

*image credit: Tieghan Gerard, Half Baked Harvestfancy holiday party holiday cocktails

Practice active listening.

This refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way. It is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, allowing you to understand their message. It’s important to paraphrase and reflect back on what was said and withhold judgment and advice. This means taking a pause letting the words sink in and not interrupting with a rebuttal or reply.

For example, “What I hear you saying is ________, I can understand why that would make you feel that way.”

Disarm them with a compliment.

This is one tactic I personally love pulling out. When you are able to compliment someone on their fact, research, or opinion it allows them to feel as though you understand them and their intention. It often helps someone take their guard down and allow for genuine respect and listening.

We are prepared for insults but compliments leave us baffled – Mason Cooley

Try to find common ground on which you can agree. It may seem impossible at the time to acknowledge the validity of someone else’s argument, but adults should be able to appreciate the gray between the black and white of your viewpoints. It’s so important that you find this level playing field. Remember, we all want a bright future for our children, the country, and our lives as a whole. Our intentions are good, sometimes we just have different ways of getting there.

A woman and her family smiling

Image by Jenny Fu Studio

Make sure they feel seen, heard, and understood.

Lead with compassion. Ask questions or use open-ended questions. Show genuine interest and curiosity. When you ask questions, you are inviting the other person to think more deeply and help you mine for insight… 

For example, “Could you tell me more about how you came to that conclusion?”  or That’s interesting, what source did you find that information from so I can explore that more?”

Honoring your voice, standing for what you believe in, and presenting your perspective.

This might seem obvious, but one side effect of having strong beliefs is that we can sometimes assume that the value of our position is, or should be, obvious and self-evident. We think that we shouldn’t have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right and good. You may find yourself thinking “someone doesn’t get it, well that’s their problem, it’s not my job to educate them.” A little reminder; if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way. Take the time to present what you have to say in a calm and thoughtful way. 

Know when to end the conversation.

Try to reinforce the positive feelings that you have toward each other, despite your differences. If your relationship is long and strong enough, this too shall pass. Continuing to maintain an air of openness and mutual respect will allow you to survive the changing political and social environment. Let them know you value the conversation, but time might be better spent continuing the conversation when you can be one on one. 

If all that fails, you can always say you smell something burning and run to the kitchen. Good luck!