Loving Difficult Family Members this Holiday Season


Who couldn’t use a lesson in loving difficult family members this season?


As the holidays approach and family gatherings are on the horizon, we all probably have that one (or more) family member we are really not looking forward to seeing. Whether it’s their political beliefs, their bad attitude, their litany of previous offenses, or some combination of all three, they are just challenging. In today’s culture, words like “toxic” and “cancel” fly around pretty freely. 


I’m old enough to have “a day,” and back in my day, my late mother not only tolerated but showed great love for family members I know must have been challenging for her. People we might call toxic today. My mom was basically a living angel, and living up to her example, and being that example to my own kids, feels overwhelming. But I hope that it is possible by remembering a few things:


(Please note, none of these things apply to those who are truly toxic: those who’ve perpetuated physical, financial, or emotional abuse.)



a woman standing near a Christmas tree as she welcomes extended family into her home


  1. I, too, have been challenging and have been forgiven and loved. It can be easy to think that I would never act like that irritating relative. While it might be true that I might not act out in that specific way, I know that I have a whole list of episodes in which I was, let’s just say, not my best. Anyone who knew me at 16 and still loves me is a saint. Having received grace, I can extend it.
  2. Even a jerk can be nice to people who have been nice to them. I am not a jerk. I can dig deep and be kind and gracious towards those who are a little rough with me.
  3. I can change the subject! Someone wants to bring up politics over potatoes? Change the subject! Someone makes a snarky comment about my parenting choices? Change the subject! I can’t control what they say, but I’m not powerless to affect the direction of our conversation.
  4. I can let things go. Sometimes, our loved ones will deeply hurt us. Actually, it’s inevitable. Certain political stances also feel really high stakes today. There are times in which another person will never understand their impact or why I hold a different perspective, and will never apologize. I can forgive them anyway. Holding on to my anger or frustration punishes me, not them. And back to point #1: I’ve been guilty, too. 


a boy sitting at the kids’ table at the holidays, with the adult table in the background


If you’ve struggled as I have, I hope these thoughts encourage you. Little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening. We don’t need to be perfect, but we do have the opportunity to show our kids how to extend kindness and love in challenging circumstances. We know that they will encounter difficulties in their friendships, family relationships, and professional settings. Let’s give them an example they can call to mind in those times.


Further, and perhaps most importantly, our actions will send our kids this message: if they mess up, like, really mess up, and do something to hurt us or their siblings, or if they disagree with us on an issue that feels really big and important, we will always, always love them. 


Comments are closed.