Holiday Family Drama Survival Guide

holiday family drama

“I wasn’t in the door ten minutes before my mother started in on me – venting her criticisms of everything I do.” That’s how an acquaintance began recounting her Thanksgiving visit to her parent’s home. “I listened for five minutes, put my coat back on, said “Try being nice to me next year,” and walked my family out. My brother and sister are furious with me, but they’re gutless anyway.”

That’s holiday family drama. And similar family dynamics make so many people dread the holidays.

Why Do People Create Holiday Family Drama?

It’s hard to believe anyone goes to the trouble of preparing a large dinner all the while plotting to serve it with resentments and grievances. That’s anyone’s version of crazy. So why does it happen so often? Experts say drama happens because families tend to default to roles they played when the kids were growing up. Click To Tweet

Experts say drama happens because families tend to default to roles they played when the kids were growing up. Parents (now grandparents) find it hard to resist offering unsolicited “input” to their adult children. And adult children often revert to their place in the family pecking order.

The sparks fly when somebody refuses to play their old part. Adult children often experience the dynamic of healthier families – families they’ve married into or otherwise become closely engaged with. Then they raise their expectations of their own family, themselves, or both. Not everyone welcomes the new expectations or sees them as an evolutionary step forward.

Furthermore, most people haven’t heard or heeded the old axiom: “Treat family like friends and friends like family.” Family is prone to treat each other with more license than they would ever treat a friend. That’s not a sign of closeness. That’s a sign of disrespect.

(To read about dealing with painful relationships with mothers, check out this post.)

7 Big-Pants-Wearin’ Ways To Manage Holiday Family Drama

Every family has its own dynamic and nuances. So think through yours and plan ahead using the survival tactics best suited to your situation. Head’s up, it starts with you – which is good news because “you” is who you can control.


Realize your family is not the one who changed. You likely did. And although that’s probably a positive step for you and your own children, you need to cut your family of origin some grace. Your epiphany wasn’t theirs. And you probably didn’t come by yours as the result of someone forcing it on you. So be gentle with them. Model the change you’d like for them to see. Walk it, don’t talk it. Any fool can start barking about how others should behave.


As long as you’re upsetting the apple cart of roles, be willing to go further than you think you must. What I mean is, if you’ve grown in maturity beyond the present ability of a parent or older sibling, maybe that’s the role you fill. (Though I don’t recommend announcing that’s what you’re doing. Won’t go over well.) Stop waiting for an older sibling to be nurturing and protective of you if they don’t have that in them. You can be the older sibling regardless of birth order. (Happened all the time in the Bible.)


Remind yourself a family visit isn’t the same thing as moving in. You can get through anything with a smile when you know there’s an end to it. If you’re as mature as you think you are, you can do it. See it as a personal challenge and character exercise. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to your expected part. It means you demonstrate control over your emotions instead of letting them control you.


Consider the wild idea not everything said to you is wrong. Listen to what’s being said and give it all a fair evaluation. At least one thing should stick and give you an opportunity to show humility and maturity. Own what you should own. Give up being right about EVERY thing.


When you’re at a loss for words to respond to something truly nutty, you can excuse yourself to the bathroom. It’s a place to get away and get it together. There you can chuckle, roll your eyes, or whisper “Help me, Jesus!” If you go to the bathroom a lot, they’ll think you’re tore up. Or they’ll figure it out.


Pray for your family – before you go to visit, while you’re there, and afterward. It’ll lessen your aggravation toward them, grow you in Christlikeness, and bring glory to your Maker.


If you’ve lost your big pants, don’t go. It’s better to skip the event and let family speculate about your issues than to throw a big ole hissy fit and confirm them. Of course, there are legitimate family dynamics where skipping the event means you’re firmly zippered in your big pants.

Drunkenness, for example, is among them. No amount of modeling respectful behavior, tolerance, or personal self-control on your part will make an impression through a haze of alcohol. Besides, the emotional risk to your own children is too great and your first responsibility is to protect them. You decide what constitutes a risk too great for you and yours. You might feel sad, but don’t feel guilty.

There you have it. Seven strategies to deal with holiday family drama. Godspeed.

holiday family drama