How can I feel intentional about family holidays when the in-laws host and I feel like a bystander?


Welcome to the Intentional Family Moment. Take a moment with us as we discuss our thoughts on your family questions, then join us in our weekly challenge as we work together to be more intentional in our families.
This is episode 11, hosted by married Coriaria founders Brent and Michelle. This episode is brought to you by Quilted Memoir – Stitching Together Memories. Learn more at
Today’s question is, “How can I feel intentional about family holidays when the in-laws host and I feel like a bystander?”
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the background behind this question. What family dynamics are happening? Why was this question asked in the first place? The first thing that comes to mind for me, is that you can always be intentional about how you are towards other people. We have learned a lot about that thanks to a book called Leadership and Self-Deception.
The book Leadership and Self-Deception is from the Arbinger Institute. The also published another book in the same space – “The Anatomy of Peace.” Both are worth listening to, they cover the same content, however. The aim of those books (not to sum up those books – there’s a lot in there) is that the way that we are towards people is extremely important. It can completely change the dynamic of a relationship or interaction. It’s not just what we do or say, but how we feel towards that person.
One of the ways that they sum up the way we can be towards people, is whether or not we view them as people – as people with needs, interests (that may be the same or different than us), complete, interesting human beings – or do we see people as objects? Do we see people as things we can use to accomplish whatever our goals happen to be? The way that we treat other people between those two camps changes everything about how we interact with them.
I think that approaching family holidays – whether or not you are in charge of certain aspects of it – with an attitude built on the principles of that book, by remembering that these are real people, that they are family, that even though there are differences between family members, they are someone to love and there is always gratitude to be had. I’m sure that seems a little bit disconnected to whatever feelings and emotions that this person that asked the question is feeling, because those are real too. But, there is a lot that you can be intentional about that is within your control. A lot of that has to do with your sense of gratitude and the way that you see and approach other people. Even just remembering why you’re grateful for the holiday in general.
None of this is to minimize the challenges that many people experience interacting with family during the holidays, because it can be a time of high emotions – both good and sometimes challenging. Something that comes to me while reflecting on that is that one’s in-laws and other family members that you end up interacting with: They are part of the broader context of people that helped raise people that are very close to you. Especially with an in-laws situation, if you married into a family that you find (probably like most people, if not everybody) there are new things to learn about how people interact, what are the interactions between different family members, preferences, interests, and so forth…that whole rich context is what brought you the person that you married in the first place. That’s a beautiful thing to think about – that all of these things that you see that might be jarring to you personally, that’s actually the backdrop for the person you ended up marrying in the first place. Those are all things that help weave in to creating who they are, and they are also going to be different from those things as well because they have their own unique set of interests (they’re not pigeon-holed into that background). But, both of them together – considering the person you married, your in-laws, and the whole context of those things – can be like a treasure hunt of sorts, where you can start looking and understanding more about this person. Why are they the way that they are? You can really start to dig deep into this person, to appreciate them more. Hopefully, by extension, that may even extend to you in-laws as well. As you appreciate your spouse, you will be able to appreciate your in-laws as well.
Yeah, I like that. I’ve made the assumption with the question that they have already reached out to their in-laws and asked if they can help and contribute, if that’s their desire – to help with whatever is happening when they are hosting. If they haven’t, that’s always important to not just assume that they will ask you if they want something, but to reach out and ask, and say, “Hey, I would really enjoy working on this, is there a place for that?” And, if not, to be okay with it. That’s important too. If you haven’t asked, use your words and actually ask for that opportunity.
Content communication is something that we talk about on this podcast and elsewhere. To recap on that, content communication is essentially saying what you mean, and meaning what you say, and taking other people and what they say at face value as well. If you extend the invitation to say, “Hey, I really enjoy organizing this piece of things” or “I like to bake” or “I like to help with decorations”, or whatever it may be (I’m talking about this in a holiday context), if you extend that invitation and it’s declined, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no other context for being able to build a strong relationship there. It could just be that they didn’t actually need the help, and it’s okay. There are other opportunities that will present themselves in the future that will help to both support things as well as make those connections.
Something that has been helpful for us is to take the initiative on organizing some of the family get togethers. That provides an opportunity to be able to define things on your own terms, and to be able to set the stage for making those contributions, and making those connections with family in ways that may be helpful for you.
We’ve covered a lot in this podcast as far as the subject matters that we tend to talk about. If I was going to choose one thing that would be most beneficial in this context, it would be to read and apply either Leadership and Self-Deception or The Anatomy of Peace. This is not a sponsored thing, we have learned a lot from it and we feel like if we can all work to take that perspective on the people around us. If I was going to choose a challenge for today, it would be to read one of these books. It’s a really short read, and I think it’s possible even in just a week.
I think that’s definitely doable. I would note that in the age of audio books, that these are books that are probably best read. It is probably worth getting a copy for your shelf. You will want to look back on it and review it from time to time, because it really is that good. It also includes a number of diagrams and other things that aren’t as conducive to listening. I listened to the Anatomy of Peace and, because I had already read Leadership and Self-Deception, I understood what was being talked about. If you are going into it fresh, it would probably be best to get it in a written format or e-book. Either format would be fine, but something you can look at.
Thank you for joining us. Now go home and change the world by being more intentional with your family.

Arbinger's bestselling book, Leadership and Self-Deception

Challenge: Read Leadership and Self-Deception

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