How to Survive Family Gatherings

Gay and Katie Hendricks by Gay and Katie Hendricks | November 20th, 2008 | 7 Comments
topic: Personal Growth, Relationships

“I feel out of sync with my family of origin around the holidays, when I spend more time with them than usual,” wrote one reader recently. “They aren’t interested in honest communication, working on relationships, or other things that are important to me … How can I deal with this in a positive way?

This question is a very common one, and one that usually arises sometime in the course of any relationship, not just family. We all grow at different rates and have different values. If they’re like most of our families, your family of origin has entrenched ways of seeing the world and “rules of engagement” about how they communicate, ranging from deafening silence to titanic battles. In any case, though, in learning to communicate clearly with your original family, know that you’re training for the Olympics of human communication!

One graduate of our coaching program shared a great insight when she returned from a holiday visit to her family in the Midwest. She’s a long-time student and practitioner of Buddhism, a spiritual lineage far removed from the traditional religion of her Kansas farmland roots. She said, “When I tried to tell them about Buddhism and why I valued it so much, they hated it. When I just remembered to act like the Buddha, feel compassion and not try to convince them of anything, they loved it.” It’s a good thing to keep in mind around family visits.

Another thing to remember is that no matter how old you get or what you accomplish, you’re going to be seen as a kid by your family. It took me about 40 years to figure this out. Whenever I’d visit the Southern family I grew up in, I’d often get triggered by things they said about race and politics. When I’d try to “set them straight” they’d start bringing up dumb things I’d done when I was the third grade, times I’d struck out in Little League, etc., all with the theme of “Who are you to be telling us how wrong we are?”

Here I was, thinking I was put on this earth to educate and change them, while they had exactly the opposite view: They were here to change and educate me. I reluctantly gave up arguing with them, even though I had the urge about once every ten minutes. I put my attention on just appreciating them for being who they were and thanking them for the contributions they’d made to me and others.


  1. yeah it’s tough not jumping on every little thing your family members say at gatherings. i’ve had to learn that myself. i feel that it is important to discuss issues sometimes, as uncomfortable as it might be, rather than remaining in silence. it’s a delicate balance.

    Melissa | December 2nd, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. [...] arise—it’s a universal law that the people who love us the most and know us the best also push our buttons like nobody [...]

  3. The more I found myself becoming stable in my beliefs and spirituality, I would be faced with conflicting, narrowmindedness from my family. I use my travels and wide perception to slowly open their minds and their hearts. Keep in mind when it comes out as “preaching” no one listens. I’ve found humor to be the best remedy for that!

    Jessica | December 11th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. [...] Not to be a total bummer, but no matter how many hours we’ve put in on the mat, how many “Om”s we sing or how many times we dent the meditation cushion, anyone can regress in times of stress. We get snarky, we lash out, we turn on the waterworks and display a host of other behaviors better suited to the Terrible Twos than, say, a holiday dinner at the adult table. [...]

  5. Don’t take anything personal. Don’t assume anything, be honest with everything you say and always do, and think your best… this is the preacher preaching to the preacher.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Think on things that are Larpent my word for how to think thing that are lovely admirable righteous praiseworthy, eternal, noble, and trustworthy. Think. you

    Lady Di | December 16th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  6. Its a good time to grow and to learn. my motto is “accept ..don’t expect” and how about learning unconditional love. and remember what irritates us about them is often a projection of our own..Happy Holidays

    kate powers | December 16th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  7. I believe that our family of origin can be our greatest teachers…when we work diligently all year to try and stay balanced spiritually, physically and emotionally then at holiday time we gather with those to whom we are related, we are given the opportunity to see where indeed we are and what we still have to work on in ourselves.

    Carrie | December 17th, 2008 | Comment Permalink

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