family tension

I spent this past holiday with my children, my brother and sisters, my mom (and her husband of 25+ years) and my dad. There were some fun, laughter-filled, memory-building times together. There were also some conflicts, differences of opinion, and hurt feelings.

There was tension.

Dictionaries define tension as being stretched, strained or stressed, mentally or emotionally. It can involve uneasiness, nervousness, anxiety or a strained relationship. It results in “walking on eggshells”, or it can reach a level of hostility.

Tension can also serve a positive purpose. Tension is necessary for a sewing machine to weave the threads together well, for a bow to launch the arrow to its target, for the sailor’s knot to hold tight. High-tension wires carry electrical power over long distances. Tension is something we desire on car alternator, air conditioner and vacuum cleaner belts. According to Fretag’s Pyramid, we intentionally build tension when writing a successful fiction novel. Arterial tension maintains blood pressure in an artery; surface tension preserves the integrity of a surface, and tissue tension enables a state of equilibrium between tissues and cells. Sexual tension can lead to great enjoyment between a husband and wife.

All that to clarify…

not all tension is bad.

One of the tensions I experienced was between “my” family traditions and the extended family traditions. There is not one right way and one wrong way to celebrate holidays; it much more complex than that. So when I travel to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other key event with other family members, I yield a bit of my preferences… and I miss a bit of how I like to do things. On the other hand, I gain the richness of new experiences and family times. The tension is not necessarily bad; but it is helpful to acknowledge and process it.

How do you deal with tension over family traditions? 

Another tension I had to deal with were the relationship tensions due to different personalities, expectations, communication styles, and conflict resolution strategies. My sisters and I are all very different. We are facing challenges and big decisions regarding our aging parents; we have different opinions about the options, and we use different communication methods to express those opinions. I’m not always sure whether to push for an open discussion or whether to give a sister space and time. Intellectually I know that our differing approaches, respectfully considered, will lead us to better solutions in the end. Emotionally I am learning to accept – and not fear – the tension.

How do you handle family relationship tensions?

A last tension occurred as I interacted with my children. As they have grown and matured, I have wrestled with when to “circle the wagons” to restrict and protect… and when to trust and let go. Now that they are older, I still struggle with when to offer my advice and “coaching”… and when to just give grace, believe the best, and trust them to make their own decisions. As parents, we have taught them our heart passions and values; now they will choose their own way. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes we have deep talks. Sometimes I pray and find peace. Either way, I recognize that this tension is good – it means we are all growing and changing.

How do you manage the “what’s my role?” tensions?

Life’s tensions are stretching me. I am recognizing my selfish, inappropriate and inadequate reactions, and I hope to grow to better handle the tension. Tension is here to stay; I want to embrace the tension and the benefits that it can bring to life.


It is a privilege for me to write for Missional Women. This post was originally published there. You may want to check out their other great content!

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