Tis the season in which family problems become magnified. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, thank your lucky heritage. Mixed up in our holiday cheer is nearly always increased strain in relationships. It’s eerie. It begins to build soon after Halloween, kind of like a dust devil that stirs up emotional junk.

Instead of more, is it possible we love less during the very season in which we celebrate blessings, Hanukkah and the birth of a divine infant.

What to do? I’m old-fashioned. I believe relatives are ready opportunities for service and growth, provided by a Divine Hand. However, the annual fight or flight mentality ruins many a chance.

A good friend shared the story of stepping into a motivational workshop a decade ago — a workshop on family relationships. Her marriage had been a war zone, her family life a disappointment until she heard this explanation: The term dysfunctional family, (failure to perform as expected), is redundant. They’re one and the same. Thus, families are an instant opportunity to problem-solve, love, change, forgive and support — the old “practice what we preach” adage. My friend was reborn — happy from that day forward. She now sees through a different prism; depression no longer plagues her. Only her outlook has changed.

Adding fuel to the family scenario, over the past decades, there’s been a dramatic shift in the make-up of families. Barbara Carnal, creator of the Patchwork Family, www.patchworkfamily.com, points out, “At least 75 percent of all families in America today are categorized as ‘non-traditional.’” As a wellness coaching specialist, she warns against harmful, negative labels, such as “dysfunction.” Carnal, who works to strengthen the family, celebrates the individual as a patch in a quilt. “Each one is whole itself, and the patch stands for a person’s unique self and life story,” she says. “When a person enters a family — by birth, adoption, or due to divorce and remarriage — the individual ‘patch’ is not altered or blended. Instead, the patches are joined together to define the family.”

And this is the part I love: “Each person is celebrated as a special contributor, and the family is strengthened by the ‘stitching’ made up of communication, tradition, spiritual life, community service and other ‘threads.’ When the stitching becomes weak, attention is placed on repairing the connections, not necessarily on fixing a person.” In other words, ignore the temptation to make others “just like me.”

She has something there, don’t you think? There’s nothing duller than a patchwork quilt in which the pieces are the same. Instead, if there are weak links, think about tightening the hug — listening better, offering flexibility and dropping judgment. Stretch and grow.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Sometimes it’s too painful to be sewn into a quilt with a patch that clashes with and stresses our very threads.  There are absolute times we should say “Enough” to those who destroy personal well-being. But, be careful: A chill can set in when there’s a gaping hole in a quilt.

For those who have lost a loved one, Carnal, who moved several years ago from Scottsdale to South Carolina, suggests adding traditions, in remembrance, while “celebrating what is new.” Find friends “to walk through these days with you,” she says, and, “reach out to others in the same way.”

Like any other challenge, good or bad, plan ahead, but don’t forget in this season of worship, even the most ragged patch needs to find belonging.

By the way, check out Carnal’s latest Patchwork Family publication, “The Poet & The Preacher,” (www.poetandpreacher.com.)


• East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (turleyhansen@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.

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