Home for the Holidays, Part Three: Conflict

This week, Dan and Becky Allender conclude our series engaging common holiday dynamics by talking about the crucial issue of conflict—especially within families. They start by stating the obvious: it’s no use pretending that your family is conflict-free. An honest, meaningful, holy Advent season means admitting past wounds, present tensions, and future hopes, and holding it all in tension. “If you’re with your families, you have family of origin issues galore!” says Dan. “As we’ve said in another context, when you’re with your family, never call it a vacation.”

Dan: “One of the things that I think is crucial in any level of conflict is that you know your response patterns and your spouse’s or partner’s response patterns.”

Each of us come into the season with our own nostalgic memories of Christmases past, our own desires, and our own responses to disappointment when those desires go unmet. All those dynamics mingle together and layer on top of each other within our families—a context that is ripe for conflict. Becky shares how helpful it would have been to have a wise friend mention this in the early years of their marriage, to ask about the dynamics unfolding between them and about what those dynamics might reflect of their families of origin.

Becky: “We could have made it so much smoother, but we can still do this today. […] We need to be more together than pulled apart.”

Finding a new way to respond to conflict is not about handling the externals or making a perfect, disruption-free Christmas. Instead, it requires naming and exploring the experiences and relationships that formed us, identifying patterns, and asking hard questions. It also pushes against the narrative of scarcity that says there just isn’t enough time to check in and reflect on these things.

Dan: “What are the unique demands both of us feel in our own separate homes? What are the unique desires each of us have as we come into this holiday period? And where are we historically catching ourselves in a position of creating undue conflict, a lack of capacity for care and kindness to one another?”

What are the unique desires each of us have as we come into this holiday period?

Even as we look at our own stories and ask hard questions of ourselves, Becky and Dan also encourage us to be curious about the stories of our loved ones, to be able to bless each other’s unique struggles and desires. Dan talks about allowing ourselves to have both “room to bless and room to bail”—knowing when to lean in and be curious, and when to go on a 10-minute walk or hide in the bathroom.

Dan: “However, and whatever, and with whomever you have Christmas, we from The Allender Center, and Becky and I, wish you a really merry Christmas. And may this process of asking you to address nostalgia, disappointment, and conflict actually lead to an even more memorable time of trying to take in Jesus Christ, second member of the Trinity, son of God, who became flesh to reveal the heart of the Father.”