Relative Peace

Illustration of family with three children and one set of grandparents playing at the beach
Betsy Everitt

Extended family vacations can be the best of times, but they can also be the worst of times. Even when everyone gets along, packing two or more generations in a rental beach house or campsite can be daunting, especially with all the different personalities under one roof. And did you ever notice that, when extended families come together, sensible adults often revert to their former sibling pecking order? At the same time, grandparents may unknowingly step back into the parental role with their adult children, while grandchildren instigate their own civil war with one another.

How would you describe your last get-together? Tension-filled? Relaxing and fun? Or somewhere in between? Whatever your past experiences, you can take steps to promote peace and harmony on your next extended family vacation.

Begin with a plan. Think realistically about how long you want to be together. Personality differences, ages of children and closeness of relationships are all factors. Meeting in a neutral place and considering what each family likes to do on vacation may help reduce tension. Discuss who will be responsible for planning, paying and hosting. Everyone must be on board with the plan for it to work. For instance, while it might be simple to go out for dinner and divide the check equally, this arrangement may feel unfair or uncomfortable for some people.

Make a daily schedule. Knowing the general flow of the day can reduce conflict. One way to accomplish this is for families to talk about plans for the following day in the late afternoon of the previous day or during dinner. This helps everyone who wants to go swimming or hiking, or to try other activities, to do them together. In our family, a time for arts and crafts for the younger kids gives adults an opportunity to catch their breath.

Break bread together. Mealtimes are opportunities for reconnecting. No matter how many different activities people do during the day, consider having a standard dinnertime for everyone to enjoy one another. The larger our extended family becomes, the less our family dines out. We've discovered it's easier on everyone to share the cooking and cleaning. To orchestrate this, each family signs up to plan and prepare dinner on a certain day.

Include others in your vacation plans. One year we brought along a baby sitter to help with the little ones. We were all on better behavior with an outsider around, plus she was a great help. You could just as well include a family friend, a cook or an activities director.

Do what you can to promote harmony when you get together, even when everything doesn't go your way. And don't get discouraged. Find a way to celebrate this time with your family and all the things that make your extended family unique.

Defuse Conflict

When there is conflict among relatives, what can you do? Here are some ideas for defusing tense situations the next time you get together with your extended family:

  • Decide how you will react. Most extended families have at least one antagonist who loves to bait others. Our advice: Don't take the bait! Plan to respond with a neutral "That's interesting."
  • Listen, instead of reacting. James 1:19 says to be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
  • Too often we speak before we think and later regret it, so be determined to really listen to others and carefully consider what they say before responding.
  • Be prepared to look for the humor in the situation. Learn to laugh with your family and at yourself.

Relieve Stress

If you're able to break away from the group for a while, consider using the following stress relievers:

  • Breathe deeply. When anxiety strikes, the heart races; breathing deeply will help you relax.
  • Take a bath. Warm water calms you by increasing circulation and relaxing muscles.
  • Have a quiet time. Read Psalm 23 or your favorite passage of Scripture.
  • Keep a journal. Jotting down your thoughts may help you keep things in perspective.
  • Take a break. Slip off for a cup of coffee, nap or walk.
  • Get moving. When tensions arise, do something physical. Go for a run or swim. Physical activity can help you relax.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2010 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 to it for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2010 by Claudia and David Arp. Used by permission.

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