Q: Do you have any advice for dealing with extended family members who don't get along? My in-laws like to host big get-togethers with all the relatives, but they're always marked by tension and dissension. I don't want to offend my spouse or his parents, but I'm tired of all the conflict. Can you suggest a solution?
Jim: This a common situation -- in home after home, family gatherings that are supposed to be filled with love and warmth end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. But "common" isn't the same thing as "unavoidable."
One option is to be honest. When you get an invitation, tell your in-laws that you appreciate their thoughtfulness, but aren't going to be able to join the party. You don't need to defend yourself or offer a long explanation. Just state your position and leave it at that. Naturally, you and your spouse will have to be in agreement on this.
A second choice would be to attend the gathering, but minimize your contact (if travel is involved, make plans to stay at a hotel rather than in your in-laws' home). Tell them that you're looking forward to spending time with them, but don't want to get involved in a feud with other members of the family. If the party disintegrates into a shouting match, politely excuse yourselves and head for home.
There's also a third option. You could approach the next family gathering with an entirely different attitude. Try to see it as a time for reaching out in kindness and grace, even when it's hard. Look for opportunities to extend love to some unlovely people. In the process, you may end up having a bigger impact in all their lives than you might suspect.
Q: My son (age 13) is suddenly very interested in girls -- and vice versa. Many of his peers are already dating, but my wife and I feel that this is just too young. How can we teach him about healthy relationships that don't involve romance?
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: My son is 13 as well. While "crushes" are normal at this stage, kids need help handling the powerful feelings of attraction. Society encourages romantic (and too often, physical) relationships at younger and younger ages and normalizes intense boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. So this is a good time to underscore the basics of friendship that are essential to all healthy relationships.
One great place to start would be to find out about the friends that your son has right now -- both guys and girls. Talk with him about the character qualities that good friends exhibit. These include (but aren't limited to) trustworthiness, commitment, genuineness, loyalty, empathy and compassion. Does your son exhibit these traits in his friendships, and do his friends show them? Are their interactions characterized by respect, honesty and concern for others? Or do they treat others with disrespect and hurt them with pointed sarcasm?
A true friend builds others up and wants what is best for the other person. Good friends don't ask the other person to do what is wrong. Instead, they encourage others to be the best they can be.
Of course, this isn't just a one-time conversation. Keep checking with your son about his relationships, encourage him to consider how he has been a friend (or perhaps not such a good friend) to others, and challenge him to make needed changes.
As your son grows he will learn that romantic feelings come and go, but a solid friendship is foundational to relationships of all kinds. By teaching him how to be a good friend now, you're making an investment that will yield dividends for years to come.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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