The holiday season provides opportunities to spend time with loved ones, to break the ordinary routine, and have some fun. It can also be a stressful time for many people – family conflict can bubble to the surface. It is well known that family law services experience their busiest time over the December/January/February period. Tensions might arise around who will spend time with who and when, unresolved relationship rifts can be brought to a head, people who feel an obligation to attend events together might find themselves facing off, expectations can vary between couples or extended family relationships, disappointments might be voiced in the melting pot of spending intensive time together. The purpose of exchanging gifts as an expression of love can be undermined by the stressful process of shopping and unclear expectations about how much to spend, what someone would like, and navigating the hordes of other people engaged in the same mad pre-Christmas rush. Rebecca Huntley recently observed that:
“Interestingly I haven’t done much research on how Australians feel about Christmas, because it’s often fruitless to conduct focus groups past December 1. Everyone is too busy and cranky to turn up anywhere that isn’t offering free alcohol.”
Without empirical evidence, holiday conflict can be explained through the foundational assumptions of the conflict resolution field. In essence, conflict is an ordinary part of human interaction, and intense periods of interaction inevitably bring conflict.
So why bring all of this up, am I being a Grinch ?
Hopefully not. One of the best ways to equip ourselves to be better conflict managers is to expect conflict and respond to it mindfully. If our ordinary way of dealing with conflict with someone we love, or to whom we are tied by family, is to avoid or accommodate, then perhaps reimagining whether that approach is sustainable over intense periods of sharing time together can help us to plan to respond differently and constructively. Many of us find it much easier to implement our conflict management training when dealing with colleagues, clients, other professionals, service providers, or authorities than we do with people for whom we care deeply. It is much easier to moderate our behaviour when supporting others to deal with their conflict than it is when dealing with our own. Investing extra effort in managing our conflict interactions with the people we are closest to is challenging and absolutely worthwhile. We talk the talk of “conflict is inevitable, normal, and should be expected”, so let’s walk the walk and expect it. Let’s hold ourselves to high standards, be kind to ourselves and others, and expect not to resolve conflict perfectly all the time. It’s just part of the messy, ordinary, inevitable, beautiful chaos of human interaction and community. As people committed to a better way of managing conflict, we have to accept imperfection and commit to doing better next time.
Here are a few gift ideas too, which may help spread some cheery conflict management competence and enthusiasm (disclaimer – I have not actually used or bought any of these yet):
- For children Kinder to grade 6 there is a book called Trouble at the Watering Hole
- Sharon Sutherland’s Gift Ideas to Inspire Conflict Resolution include collaborative games and board games for mediators.
- Monique McKay has put together (back in 2011) a suggested playlist to give to the mediator in your life.
Happy holidays to you from the Australasian Dispute Resolution Research Network.