Real Families Fight
What to do about not so happy holidays

by Dr. Dorree Lynn

For many people, thanksgiving heralds a month of myths often culminating in January depression. Newspapers, magazines, the big and little screens and our own childhood wishes propel us towards dreams of wonderful Thanksgiving dinners, Chanukah gelt, Christmas gifts and New Year's revelry replete with resolutions almost surely broken within the month.  

Dreams of perfect family dinners with everyone sitting down delighting in each other's company remain with us as we go "brain dead" and forget the fight we had with Uncle Joe two years ago and the reality that we can't stand Aunt Liz's two bratty kids. We try to ignore or we harbor resentment about events such as the year the dog bit your cousin and you remembered all too late that you were allergic to cats and that your grandmother had two. 

December is often a very stressful and sad month, when all the while we hear jingle bells and are told how happy we will be. Real families are complex, composed of different personalities and values. Sometimes they really are able to get along for extended periods of time. Other times, the differences are too pronounced and being "flesh and blood" isn't enough to make everyone get along or even like each other.

Additionally, there are so many divorced families, single families, blended families that the longed for image of Norman Rockwell's traditional family is rapidly fading. Children have to be shared and shunted between households, families, splinter and new mates appear, religious and political beliefs differ and all the while everyone gets exhausted from working so hard to get along.

Some families actually do get along. But, even in the best of families, there is usually a point where someone has to get away and breathe their own bit of fresh air. The best gatherings are usually those where there is enough space to get away to be by oneself for a while and those that don't tend to go on endlessly for days. At times, a seemingly wonderful event can end with an unexplained hurt feeling or sudden eruption. Someone, usually innocently, says that one word or opinion too many and what had been a wonderful warm sense of eternal bliss flares into overt or covert chaos. If a version of this has happened in your family, don't feel guilty or badly about it. You are not alone or unique. Real families do fight.

However, there are ways you can keep a family festival from turning into a family feud.

1. Keep your expectations realistic.

2. Plan ahead and bring what you need. Know whom you will get along with and stay away from sure fire explosive subjects.

3. Visit for a reasonable time. One meal can often be magic, after three days people tend to get on each other's nerves.

4. Help and be a team. But remember, the host and/or hostess are ultimately the boss. Their ways may not be your ways, but as the adage goes: "When in Rome do as the Romans do." 

5. If you have special dietary needs, such as no sugar or vegetarian only, let your host or hostess know in advance. It can hurt someone's feelings if they have cooked for days only to find you won't touch their food.

6. Stay away from Uncle Joe, or keep to small talk.

7. Remember a large family gathering is not the time to resolve unresolved personal issues.

8. If you must say something negative, try to speak to the individual alone.

9. Go with the best of intentions and good will and keep those intentions and good will.

10. Be ready to forgive. After all, that really is the meaning of this special time of year. 

This Column's for you,


Dorree Lynn, PH.D

Dr. Dorree Lynn, author of the forthcoming book Getting Sane Without Going Crazy, is a noted speaker, columnist, and practicing psychologist. Visit her at