A "Relative" Challenge

Illustration of a family of eight seating around a holiday dining table
Chris Pyle

This holiday season, many Christian families will face a dilemma—how to handle a holiday visit from a difficult relative. We may dream of a postcard-perfect holiday dinner with the members of our extended family engaged in joyous conversation around the dining room table. But for many, that dream becomes a nightmare when dueling in-laws engage in heated arguments or an eccentric uncle insists on sharing off-color stories from his glory days.

As parents, how can we best navigate this challenge? One of our primary responsibilities is to protect our children from harm—physically, emotionally and spiritually. At the same time, God calls us to love our non-Christian relatives, even those who are decidedly unlovable.

Here are a few suggestions for tackling this predicament:

Ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment

Does your relative’s behavior truly pose a risk to your children, or are you simply annoyed that you have to deal with her idiosyncrasies during Thanksgiving or Christmas? Perhaps God wants to teach you (and your kids) to focus less on your own comfort and more on loving those who need Him most.

Lay the ground rules

Be specific about the standards in your home concerning profanity, conflict with others, and the use of alcohol and tobacco. Tell your extended family members about the values you are seeking to teach your children, and ask them to honor those values.

Prepare your kids

Before your relatives arrive, you and your children can pray for each of them. Remind your children how much God loves your relatives—even when they behave inappropriately.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to leave

If a relative’s behavior becomes blatantly offensive or hostile, take him aside and privately ask him to take a walk to “cool down.” If he refuses, politely ask him to leave.

Above all . . .

. . . strive to live out Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” For those of us with difficult family members, our Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration may not be idyllic, but it could provide a marvelous opportunity to truly be the hands and feet of Christ.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2009 by Bill Maier. Used by permission.

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