The Greatest Gift You Can Offer Your Loved Ones During This Holiday Season


mother listening to her son

We are quickly moving into “the most wonderful time of the year.” And yet, I dare say that many of us are feeling angst and trepidation as the holidays approach.

For some, it’s the sorrow of being alone and separated from family members and friends due to the covid pandemic. Whether due to government mandates or personal choice, many will not be gathering in person as they have most holidays.

For many, it’s the anxiety and stress associated with all the disruptions that we have experienced during this year—job losses, financial hardship, health challenges, shifts in how our kids are schooled, shutting down places of worship, exercise and recreation, racial tensions, and a recent election.

On top of these worries, we are living in an ever-polarized world. Members of the same households view the current world through different lenses—not just about the pandemic but about the state of our nation and best way to solve our common problems. This, too, creates stress as we think about gathering with loved ones.

Can you be a safe place?

I want to suggest that one of the most important gifts you can give your loved ones, during the approaching holidays, mother listening to her sonis your presence and attention. It isn’t about having answers to all of the stresses and tensions. It is not about setting people straight in how they ought to think or behave. It is about offering our empathy, presence, and support, so often through the gift of good listening.

Are you a safe place? Can family members open up to you and talk about how they’re doing?

You offer this gift by observing spoken and unspoken cues and then initiating opportunities for sharing and disclosure. If someone is willing to open up, you sit back and use good, active listening techniques to encourage them to express and even explore their feelings.

This is not something that can be forced, by the way. It isn’t about being intrusive or probing. It is inviting but then having an equal respect for their privacy as well as ownership of their personal journey. You listen to those who are ready to talk rather than trying to force sharing from those who are more hesitant.

How to Listen

As you may know, I’ve been writing a lot, recently, about how to listen. We put down distractions and offer our attention and full presence. We let go of our judgments and tendency to agree or disagree. We refrain from giving our advice or quick fixes. We do our best to hear not just the words but meaning behind the words which someone is speaking. We may ask an occasional clarifying question but seek to keep the responsibility on them to steer the conversation. We periodically restate what we hear to make sure we understand. Mostly, we create space, even through silence, to allow them to look inside and tell us about their inner experience.

Know that it is not your job to make everything all better. It is your job to be a safe place, to lend a kind and empathic ear while trusting the individual to figure things out for themselves. It is enough for them to know you care and are willing to be there for them.

The challenge

I recognize that it is not easy to listen, especially in this season of political and cultural polarization. You and your loved ones may not share the same views and so you may feel threatened as you listen or get hooked into defending your point of view.

And I want to be clear that there is a place for dialogue. I strongly believe that we need to learn to talk about sensitive topics, even politics, with our loved ones. Simply avoiding controversial topics does not help us overcome our polarization. We need to speak openly and learn from one another if we’re going to solve our shared problems.

But that is not my main point today. I’m not talking about how to engage in constructive dialogue, a great topic for another post (frankly, the topic I first thought I would write about today).

I am talking about being a safe place for someone who is suffering—for whom the issues of the day are taking an emotional toll. Can you be sensitive to their cues? Can you make it safe for them to talk to you and then listen to feelings rather than responding to issues and content? After all, people matter more than issues. Relationships are more important than our disagreements.

The power of connection

Dinners and gatherings are fun and even renewing. Being together, even if virtually if not in person, fulfills a deep longing in our souls. But I want to suggest that you sometimes have an opportunity to take it a little deeper, to connect with others in a way that gets below the surface and offers support and helps someone feel heard. Whether a child or grandchild, an in-law or out-law, family or friend, in person or virtual, perhaps you can share the gift of being there for others at a little deeper level this holiday season.



  1. Ravi

    Thank you for the timely advise. Very insightful and basics that tend to forget with all the noices.

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks, Ravi. Have a great holiday season.

  2. Din Friel

    Thanks Roger


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