Q: My in-laws like to host extravagant get-togethers with all the relatives; this year they're "going extra big" for the holidays because gatherings didn't happen last year. But these events are always marked by tension and arguments among extended family members. I don't want to offend my husband or his parents, but I'm tired of all the conflict. Can you suggest a solution?
Jim: This certainly isn't a unique situation; in fact, it's fairly common. Many family gatherings that should be warm and loving end up turning into tense, uncomfortable confrontations. But "common" isn't the same thing as "unavoidable." As I see it, you have several alternatives.
One option is to be honest. Tell your in-laws that you appreciate their thoughtful invitation, but you simply aren't going to be able to join the party. There's no need to defend yourself or offer a long explanation; just state your position and leave it at that. Of course, you and your spouse have to be in complete agreement on this course.
A second choice is to attend the gathering but minimize contact. If travel is involved, stay at a hotel instead of your in-laws' home. Tell them that you're looking forward to spending time with them, but you don't want to get caught up in a feud between other members of the family. If the party does disintegrate into a shouting match, politely excuse yourselves and head for home.
There's also a third option, which is to approach the next family gathering from a different perspective. Try to see it as a time for reaching out in kindness and grace, even when that's challenging. Look for opportunities to extend love to some unlovely people -- and/or connect with others "on the sidelines." You may end up having a bigger impact in all their lives than you might suspect.
Q: Our 4-year-old daughter's selective eating habits are driving us crazy; she's VERY finicky about food. I view this as disobedience, but my husband fears that making an issue of it now will lead to trouble later. Help!
Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: Dealing with a picky eater can be stressful -- my poor mother went through it with me! There's always a reason for any given behavior. Your daughter might be struggling with a sensory issue regarding specific textures, which could require professional guidance, or perhaps reacting to certain tastes.
But if she's simply a "fussy" eater, it could be tied to her emotions (stress, family conflict, guilt, frustration, anxiety). Many kids attempt to assert control over their environment through eating. You and your husband must work together to help your daughter expand her palate and learn how to communicate her emotions in healthy ways.
Here are some quick tips to consider:
Take inventory of your family's stress levels and overall emotional state. Strategize healthy ways to manage stress.
Your child may decide to skip a meal. Don't panic; she'll most likely be hungry at the next meal.
Give her a measure of control by offering a choice between two equally nutritious options, like broccoli or green beans as the vegetable. Take her shopping with you to select foods for your family's meals and have her help with some of the preparations.
Don't turn meals into power struggles. Allow a reasonable amount of time for her to eat, then put her plate in the refrigerator until the next meal.
Create a culture of connection in a safe, consistent and unhurried environment to eat together. Some families play board games or word games at the table to deflect attention away from the food.
With patience, Mom and Dad working together can help your child see food as fuel rather than a battlefield.
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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