Conflict at Christmas and the Modern Family

As Christmas holidays draw close, you may not be at all surprised to realize for how many families it instills a feeling of dread, like a black cloud full of unfinished conflicts, bickering relatives and unhappy memories, ready to just pick up from last Christmas and banish all thoughts of a peaceful and restful time to the fairy tales as real as Santa himself.

The Fantasy Family – The Pressure for Perfection

Society maintains that in order to be happy, you need 1 x happily married parents, 1 x 2.5 happy and balanced children, 2 x happily married grandparents, and they all come together at Christmas and sing carols while the roast is being served … In a parallel universe maybe, where Alice in Wonderland brings the dessert!

Knowing this however, we still try and kill ourselves, to get as close as humanly possible to this ideal, you know, should Conde’ Nast pop around for a spot of tea and a photo shoot, we need have been doing all the right things, have all the right things under the tree and all the perfect things on the beautifully set table.

The Real Family Experience

The reality is that you have ex-in-laws, current-in-laws and soon to be in-laws on your daughter’s side… (as if one set wasn’t enough!), then you have your parents, your dad’s new girlfriend, who is younger than you, your sister’s bizarre husband and his alarming behavior and his wiry mother and then the obligatory Auntie Alice who strips completely, without fail, before the main course.

What many people don’t realize, is just how many families and individuals dread the Christmas holidays. Those without family or away from them are looking forward to a lonely period ahead. Those with families that have split up moved and extended, it can be a living nightmare for all involved with children being the primary choice of ammunition.

How to Manage and Prepare for the Pitfalls of Family Reunions

The problems come in when arrangements are unclear and left to the last minute:

  • Plan well in advance, even a few months before and discuss all the options available, and to accommodate family members traveling far distances to join your family for the Christmas period and vice verso.
  • Sleeping arrangements, troublesome teenagers, ex-in-laws and sibling rivalry are hard enough to manage without throwing it all together over a two-day period. Add alcohol and the nightmare is complete. Prepare a schedule of activities and meals well before the time. Select and allocate bedrooms to eliminate as much squabbling as possible. Inform your guests in advance of the arrangements.
  • People take on too much as they feel it is expected of them, then end up feeling resentful and angry. Rather work out what it is that is best for your family, your children, work out how much you feel you can take on and manage, then propose a plan to the rest of the family. Anyone not being reasonable can most certainly lose the right to participate in such debates and can be given an allotted time or day that is predetermined by the rest.
  • Not everybody gets this period over Christmas off from work; it would be decidedly unfair to expect somebody who has worked all day on Christmas Eve to pop out a roast dinner for 20 people just because it is “their turn.” Speak up, be flexible and make alternative arrangements.

Divorced Parents: The Ultimate Dilemma

Children can easily end up with multiple sets of parents and grandparents all wanting a turn over Christmas. Logistically, this can be made possible, but what about the reality of the situation. At the end of the day, how much is actually about the children, and how much is actually about the competition between the parents and the grandparents?

Divorced parents can sometimes forget that children are not belongings and their time cannot be appropriated to suit the agendas of the parents. Forking out overseas trips, whipping out the Master Card and waving its magic wand over large and inappropriate gifts to lure children away from their ex-spouse, is an unhealthy yet common occurrence in many a modern family.

In other cases, bizarre behavior displayed by people who, under normal circumstances, appear to be functioning as human beings, over the Christmas period, morph into sub-human entities who exhibit alarming territorial parenting techniques and propaganda tactics, bearing down on the opposition, (the other parent) armed with plane tickets and the latest high tech toy, as their targets (the children) are expected to prove their love for the better parent by choosing between the latest iPod and Disneyland.

The Spirit of Christmas

Christmas time for many families is about the children. It’s about the family, the extended or otherwise. It should be. But for so many it is not. How is it that somehow we have forgotten?

Take time, to take the care with one another and put the children first. Children have a magical ability to not hold grudges, not take sides and love without boundaries. Consider that the following year there could be fewer faces and maybe a few more empty places. So put aside the angst, count to 10 and make the most of what some families are lucky enough to have … each other.

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