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Resolving Conflict Over
Where to Spend the Holidays

QUESTION: I am dreading the holidays! We always fight over whose house we should go to for Christmas. If it were totally up to me I'd just stay home. What should we do to avoid this yearly fight this holiday season?

ANSWER: You have deadened your holiday spirit with family rituals that have become stale instead of meaningful. Take a step back to reevaluate what you want the meaning of the holidays to be for your immediate family. Turn your attention and energies to creating a family event that you can look forward to rather than dread!

Why not start your own family tradition this year? Perhaps it is time for the two of you to stop fighting about whose relatives you should visit and develop a holiday ritual centered in your home.

The initiation of your own family rituals is a necessary step new families must take to establish family identity. This does not mean that you must forgo seeing family relatives. Instead, invite them to your house if you would like, or let them know that you are having your own family ritual this year and want to visit them on another day to exchange gifts and holiday cheer.

Family rituals die if they do not remain enjoyable and meaningful to family members. For example, a large family gathering at your parents house may have provided a wonderful sense of connection as a child. It may even have continued as a family touchstone in your early adulthood, as you looked forward to the holidays. But, gradually changes are needed in any family ritual, so that it continues to meet the needs of it's growing members.

When spouses are added to the family, new conflicts can arise over how to continue holiday celebrations. Issues of inclusion and exclusion and how to celebrate can become heated between spouses. Taking turns attending one another's family celebrations over the holidays is a common first step, as spouses get to know their in-laws and an understanding of the established rituals of each partner's respective family.

The next step, however, is to create your own unique family culture, which blends your traditions in a way that brings cohesion and enjoyment to both of you and your own children. Do not stop short of taking responsibility to develop your own family identity. Take action to recover your holiday spirit. Participate in your family history by creating it.

Talk with your partner about a solution to your apathy. Remember that rituals of all kinds, whether they be our weekly patterns, (such as pancakes for Sunday breakfast), or major holiday celebrations, serve to hold families together. Meaningful ritual is the basis for family bonding over a lifetime. These rituals must be adjusted to the needs of the changing family situation so that they remain alive, instead of stagnate.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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