You know how I can tell it’s the holidays?
Not the Christmas lights & music (though I love them).
Not the happy stack of frosted cookies in my cookie jar (though I really love them).
Not even the big tree in my living room (or the smaller one in my kitchen garden window).
Unfortunately, it’s the uptick in flame wars on social media.
Someone posts a picture or makes a comment, and a whole hoard of people are eager take that person to task, dogpiling on in a frenzy of finger-wagging and snarky comments.
There’s also been an increase in eyerolls among my friend as they talk about at all the things their parents, children, siblings, or in-laws said at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
It seems like we’re all stretched too thin, and as a result we have precious little patience for the inevitable wackiness that will cross our paths as we come into contact with MORE PEOPLE.
Because it wouldn’t be the holidays unless we’re surrounded by All The People.
So how do you keep your cool?
That question got me to thinking about my earliest memories of family holidays. The Big Family (my maternal grandmother’s family) was always the ones who wanted to get together.
That side of my family is where I learned that keeping a focus on the values we share, rather than our differences, is crucial to family harmony.
In this case, the value we all shared was we loved my great-grandma.
For a small-town midwestern family, we were surprisingly diverse in our religious beliefs, but when family came together for an event, it was with the knowledge that the siblings loved their mother more than they cared about their religious differences.
Different views of politics and popular culture were also commonplace then as now, but the cousins — the grandkids — loved their grandmother (and their aunts and uncles) more than they cared about their cultural identity.
As one of the great-grandchildren at this large table, I learned that keeping an eye on that common value was the place to start.
Of course that doesn’t mean we never disagreed, but for the time we were together, we made a conscious choice to let love have its way.
It doesn’t mean there weren’t bad feelings and snarky comments at times, but it does mean that disagreements and forgiveness were easier to come by when we kept an eye on the bigger prize.
My friend Lynn is a wonderful woman with a deep, profound dislike for her father-in-law, but she positively adores her father-in-law’s parents, her husband’s paternal grandparents.
So what does she do when the family gets together?
Obviously, one of the easy things to do is to spend as little time as possible with her father-in-law, but the more important strategy she uses is to focus on the love for the grandparents.
She focuses on the highest value for her —- she thinks about family gatherings as “time with the grandparents” instead of simply “time with the in-laws.” Also, along the way, one of the interesting things she realized was that she and her oh-so-maddening father-in-law do share one important value: they both love the same people.
If nothing else, this shared value gives them a connection. Lynn also readily acknowledges that her best conversations with her father-in-law are the ones where he shares something about his life growing up with his parents or stories about her husband when he was young.
She tries to make all their conversations start there — on the most common ground she can find.
It’s my hope that this festive season as you’re with family and friends, you’ll look for common ground and shared values. Then do your best to plant your flag and stand there, enjoying the holidays…together.
Also, this holiday season, I hope you’ll join me for my online class “Savor One Season — The Holidays.” Lesson 2 is now online!