How can we handle stressful relationships with family around the holidays? What can we teach our children about it?
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Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings, be with your family, and perfect your carving skills on a giant bird straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. But, let’s face it, not every holiday get-together is quite as picturesque as we may dream it to be. Often, as we set the table and sit next to those “near and dear” to us, we fill ourselves with more anxiety and stress than stuffing and gravy. No family is perfect, and that can be magnified this time of year, especially when there are certain individuals in your family that you’d rather not be so hospitable to.
Each family is unique. Some family members struggle with past grievances, some hold grudges or resentment, and others are in the middle of seeking second chances that are harder to come by than a second helping of mashed potatoes (those are always the first to go at our home!)
While tensions might rise high among adults, this stress doesn’t have to trickle down onto your children. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to be an example to them and even teach a lesson or two. Offering your home as a haven during the holidays is a huge way to indicate to your children that anyone is welcome (barring safety concerns).
The best lesson a child can witness in extending grace and second chances to another family member is this: Compassion is always the right response. When you try to understand another person, you start with compassion. It’s the only response you will never regret, and its power can be contagious.
So, what is compassion? What does it look like?
In short, it looks like Jesus! Sympathizing with others through their suffering, offering to help when and where you can, considering their feelings before speaking or taking action, and extending mercy and kindness beyond expectation. Sometimes this is as simple as serving a slice of pie and asking how someone is. Other times it involves awkward hugs and tear-filled piles of Kleenexes. That’s okay. There’s no wrong way to offer genuine compassion. Seek the Holy Spirit in prayer to help show you simple ways to do this in your own family situation.
There is, however, a big difference between compassion and compromise, and that can be hard to remember in the middle of an emotional gathering. By showing compassion towards someone who has hurt you in the past, it’s valuable to know that it doesn’t mean you are compromising your beliefs or agreeing with their actions. It’s important to clarify this to your children as well, making sure they understand the difference.
Just as Jesus grieves our sinful behavior, His pain doesn’t diminish His willingness to forgive us. He paid the price on the cross, and He’s already rejoicing in our redemption. In the same way, by allowing family members into your home, and by offering them love, forgiveness, and even delicious food, you are showing your children through your actions that you are making an effort to build bridges and restore peace. Not only will this inspire them to do the same, but it also assures them that you are willing to extend them the same redeeming grace no matter the path their future may take.
When we show our children the power of forgiveness and the unconditional strength that compassion restores in relationships, it encourages them to love as Jesus loves us. With that kind of reinforcement of faith in action, I can’t imagine anything better to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
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