By DEBRA WHITE SMITH
Question: Every year as long as I can remember, I dread going to my family’s Christmas gathering. The reason I dread it is because my dad and younger brother always wind up getting tipsy. Before it’s over, they are usually in a verbal war. By the time we leave, my wife and I both are usually nervous wrecks. Last Christmas, my two small children were crying by the time we left. We were still unnerved the next day. If not for the grace of God, my family of origin Christmas get together would have destroyed our Christmas. When I was single, I was bothered, but I would shrug it off. Now, I have my wife and kids to think about. I don’t want to take my kids back into that environment this Christmas, but I don’t know how to deal with the situation. I hate not to visit my family of origin, but even more so, I hate the thought of exposing my wife and kids to such dysfunction.
Answer: You have every right to be disturbed and every right not to want to expose your wife and children to such turmoil. Until someone in the family speaks up, the behavior will continue unchecked, perhaps escalating in severity from year to year. Your primary concern at this point is your wife and small children. The last thing you want is for them to remember Christmas as a time of upheaval, rather than a time of peace and celebration.
Often, we speak of peace as a gift, and it can be a gift. However, peace can also be a choice. When there are people and situations in your life that repeatedly violate your peace, then it’s up to you to make a choice between peace and upheaval.
In this case, there are multiple ways you can chose to have a peaceful Christmas. Rather than not attending your family gathering, a balanced approach could involve your calling both your father and brother and explaining to them that you will visit with them separately this Christmas, rather than attend the central family Christmas gathering. Then, honestly tell them why—that you love them both but that together they are a negative force that unnerves you, your wife, and your kids. Explain to them that as long as they continue to get tipsy and get angry at Christmas, you will continue to visit them separately.
At this point, your father and brother will have an option of seeing their error and reforming. Pray that this will be the case. There is a chance that once they realize how disturbing they are being to you and other family members that they will promise not to drink and fight ever again. However, more often than not, that is not the case. Rather than reform, many times dysfunctional family members grow angry when they are confronted—no matter how kind and loving the confronter is. At that point, they can hurl insults or accuse you of thinking you are “too good” to attend the family gathering. They might even tell you that if you cannot come to the family gathering, then not to come at all. If that is the case, then commit to individual visits with the family members who want to see you and rest in the knowledge that you have done what is best for your wife and children. There are other holidays and events throughout the year when you can visit with your father and brother. If they are determined to turn Christmas into an interpersonal disaster, you are not required to participate in their holiday fiasco.
Remember, just because you are related to someone does not mean you have to let that person destroy your peace. The Bible does call children to honor their parents (Ephesians 6:2); but Scripture also encourages you to protect your children, not to provoke them to anger, and to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Watching your father get tipsy and act like a boar every year does nothing to honor him, instruct your children in the Lord, or protect them from getting angry over having their Christmas spoiled. It shows far more honor to your wife, children, and even your father to care enough to speak up. In the long run, your wife and kids will respect you more for your resolve…and eventually so may your father, brother, and other family members as well.
Whatever you decide to do, stick to your decision and don’t waver from choosing a peaceful holiday for you, your wife, and your children.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org