Focus on the Family: Family tension may erase holiday plans

Jim Daly
Jim Daly

Q: My spouse doesnít get along with my parents and siblings. The situation has gotten so bad that he doesnít even want to travel to attend our annual Thanksgiving celebration at my parentsí home. Iím tired of the tension and dissension. Can you suggest a solution?

Jim: All too often, family gatherings that are supposed to be filled with love and warmth end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. You may have resigned yourselves to the fact that things will never be hunky-dory between your husband and your family, but that doesnít mean you canít take steps that might lead to positive change.

First, you and your husband need to sit down together and discuss this problem rationally. Itís vital that the two of you come to a meeting of the minds over this issue. Interactions with extended family are an important and inevitable part of every marriage. This is a fact that youíre going to have to face together. Donít let it create a wedge between the two of you.

Perhaps it would be possible to work out a compromise. For example, consider the option of skipping certain big family gatherings every other year. This Thanksgiving, could you tell your family that, while you appreciate the invitation, you and your husband have decided to spend a quiet holiday with your immediate family? This may remove some of the stress and tension and make it easier for your husband to face the family gathering next year.


You might also go ahead with your Thanksgiving plans, but arrange to stay at a local hotel rather than in your parentsí home. If things become absolutely unbearable for you or your spouse, you can politely excuse yourselves and take refuge in the tranquility of your hotel room.

Again, the most important thing is that you and your husband agree on the course of action. Short of a miraculous breakthrough in your husbandís relationship with his in-laws (although thatís certainly something to hope and pray for!), these are some practical steps you can take to minimize the holiday stress.

Q: How can we teach our daughter good problem solving skills? Whenever she encounters a challenge, such as putting together Legos, she quickly abandons it and runs to us for help.

Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries:

Teaching kids to problem solve begins with parents modeling AND verbalizing how to solve common problems. Modeling alone is not sufficient. We must explain the process we used to arrive at the solution. Instead of simply having your daughter watch you fix something around the house (or put together Legos), verbally walk her through the steps.

Also, parents should praise their kids when they attempt to solve problems. I had a rotation in a childrenís therapeutic treatment center during my doctoral internship and residency. One of the treatment goals was to foster better problem solving skills. Any time we noticed a child working on a project, we would say, ďNice problem solving. I like how you ...Ē We always encouraged their attempts and explained what they had done that was positive.

Itís important to find the balance between encouraging your kids to ask for help and simply solving the problem for them. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to teach them to ask questions -- but then allow them to wrestle with the solution. If we immediately solve all of their problems for them, they wonít learn how to think through the problem solving steps.

Finally, take advantage of teachable times when your children make mistakes. You can use this opportunity to probe ways they could have handled the situation differently to get more positive results.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at

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