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  • Ricka Robb Kohnstamm

OMG, our family just blew up!  Now what???

Contrary to what one might believe from watching Hallmark movies or reading shiny holiday branded magazines, conflict is a real thing in families. Just as real as everything else.

Holiday or no holiday, conflict bubbles and churns, sometimes overflowing at the most inconvenient times.

Masks or no masks? And are people even invited if they refuse to be vaccinated? Not at my house! Why don't they care enough about my health to do what is best for me and my family?

What do we do about Aunt Joan, who said such mean things to her son, right at the Thanksgiving table? Everyone just sat there in silence, not wanting to make it worse, but come on! Horrible.

I don't even recognize my siblings since my mom died - what happened to us? I used to feel close to them but now I feel as though I don't even know them - I'm not only grieving for my mom, I'm grieving for what felt normal to me.

And what about the brother who won't show for our family anymore, now that he is engaged? Why is her family more important than ours? I thought being with family was important over the holidays, but obviously not everyone agrees with that sentiment. I feel such loss.

So confusing and hurtful and out of control.

Or is it?

Consider these three hopeful tips to find your way through family conflict...

Expect and prepare for bumps along the way. Buckle up. No one, ever (if they are speaking truth) said that being in relationship with other human beings is easy all the time. And relationships within families is even more complicated. Know that there will be bumps along the way - sometimes small speed bumps that you see coming and other times huge pot holes that you drop into sight unseen. Prepare for the journey. Make the space to be rested (yes, it is a choice), eat whole foods when you are hungry (instead of Christmas cookies when you aren't), and make space for regular time in nature. Moderation in all things alcohol/weed. Move your body regularly - stand up and walk.

Decide what is most important to you and focus. What is most important? Perfectly wrapped gifts under the tree? Platters full of crispy latkes that are still somewhat hot when you get them to the table? A cheerful family in matching pajamas who are in good moods at the same time and grateful for you and what you have done for them? Good luck with that. Instead, consider what is really most important to you - perhaps simply being with those you care about (whether birth or chosen family or friends), feeling healthy enough to enjoy another holiday season, listening to favorite music and remembering years past, taking a walk in the woods, watching the sparkle of night lights in the city. Decide for yourself what matters to you and focus your energies on those things.

Realign your expectations. Consider letting go of the predetermined story you have created about family expectations and use my tried and true mantra "What else is also possible?" And then take the very next step that feels right... Inhale the wonderful sap scent of the pine branches, hug the beautiful new child with the unbelievably wonderful hair, recognize that your sister's exasperation may have more to do with her exhaustion from caregiving this past year than it does with how she feels about you, speak up when someone says something mean to someone you care about, wear your mask joyfully, help schedule boosters for people in your family who want them, and revel in the messiness of even having a family - matching pjs or not.

Families are messy, wonderful things, if handled with care.

Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.


Hello, I'm Ricka.

Ricka Kohnstamm Executive & Physician Coach Profile Photo

I'm a Nationally Board Certified (NBC-HWC) Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coach. I specialize in working with physician leaders, corporate leaders, non-profit executives and their families to navigate complex work and personal issues so they can strengthen their relationships, heal, and feel hopeful about the future again. 



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