Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

A New Year’s Resolution: Dealing With Family Dysfunction

If you made the familiar trek home to be with family this past holiday season but it turned out to be your personal survivor reality show, you are not alone. Unfortunately, most families don’t function like 1950s sitcoms. In fact, family get-togethers can create angst, leaving us with post holiday let down.

You know the feeling, “I love my family, but they drive me crazy!” Is it because we sleep in our old bedrooms or because nothing has seemed to change in 15 years? Whatever the reason, we return from our holiday visits stressed, fatigued, financially overcommitted, and way too self-reflective about past failures. Guilt seems to be the prevailing emotion. We are guilty for behaving badly, for not being more tolerant, and definitely need to work on staying calmer. Why did we get so upset when Uncle Bob repeated the same story for the fifth time? It was only a story!


We love to fantasize a more idyllic reunion in which we grab a cup of coffee and share stories. There will be great talks, intimate times, and fabulous memories. Then, this dreamlike trance is broken by a familiar voice, “Are you ever going to settle down with a real job like your sister?” So much for the wonderful life! The promise of seasonal cheer gave way to sleep difficulty, headaches, and overeating.

The culprit? Unrealistic expectations. Unless your family has been in intensive therapy all year, probably not much has changed. And unless they begin that needed therapy now, not much will be different next year. Don’t allow this reality to depress you. The good news is you can change. It begins with a resolution. I can’t change my family. But I can change my reaction to them. This year, decide to make a resolution you can keep. Otherwise, you face even more feelings of let down in the months to come!


Change your expectations. Add a little kindness and empathy. Practice more patience, forgiveness, and self-control when it comes to relatives. Make this your New Year’s resolution: I will work on my reactions to family issues and be a model of grace and forgiveness. This doesn’t mean you allow people to walk all over you. It means when people treat you poorly, address it, extend grace, and forgive. Don’t wait for them to do so first. And don’t allow offense and bitterness to take root.

Finally, choose one thing you will do differently this year that will help make things better. For example, “This year I am going to ignore Uncle Bob’s unkind remarks about politics.” Imitate Christ in all you do and ask the Holy Spirit to help you exercise self-control over your tongue. Your family may have problems, but your Christian character and Holy Spirit empowerment can help you live out the power of love. This new year, be more like Christ and love those who don’t always deserve it, family included!

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