"Why does our family always argue at Thanksgiving? Aren't we supposed to be thankful?" my son asked me. Thanksgiving dinner had abruptly ended in a heated argument between my husband and his brother.
Later, my husband explained that, while he was saddened by the argument, a confrontation was necessary because his brother had failed to live up to his responsibilities. And although Thanksgiving dinner may not have been the best time for this disturbance, it did create an opportunity to teach our kids about restoring relationships. We explored the following principles with our children:
Choose to love
We realized how deeply the argument had affected our children when they asked questions such as, "Will we ever see Uncle Bob again? Does Uncle Bob hate our family now? Will he still love me?" They had difficulty grasping that it was possible to love someone even though you disagreed and needed time apart. We prayed together for the relationship and talked about how to love someone who has hurt or offended us.
Choose to forgive
We also taught our kids that we should seek ways to live at peace with the people in our lives (Romans 12:18). At times we must choose to forgive even when we may not feel like it. We talked about offering forgiveness completely and without limits, as Jesus described in Matthew 18:21-22.
My husband modeled forgiveness by calling his brother and trying to resolve the issues, even though his brother wasn't receptive. He was honest with our children about how much it hurt to be at odds with his brother. He reassured them that, although it sometimes takes months or even years to work through conflict, our family wouldn't give up hope of the relationship being restored.
Choose what's best
My oldest child, who was 7 at the time, grappled with bigger concepts such as knowing when and how to step back from an unhealthy relationship. We talked about boundaries — setting limits with others out of love, not out of anger or revenge.
My husband worked through his frustration so bitterness would not grow, and our kids learned this was necessary so he could have a heart ready for reconciliation if and when that time came.
The damaged relationship from that Thanksgiving has since been restored and is stronger because we worked through the issues together. It can be difficult to resolve family conflict, especially during the holidays. However, by walking through these tough times with our children, we were able to show them how to handle conflict in their own lives.