Family Feud: Generational Differences & Dealing with Conflict

Ingrained in our minds is this idyllic vision of family, that includes unconditional love and support, laughter, family barbeques, and three generations of happiness coming together for various family celebrations.  In reality family can be a pretty big source of stress.  Especially now with so much changing in our world when it comes to learning to embrace your authentic self, and living by your own values {instead of the ones your family instilled in you}, it can be a recipe for short fuses, tear-filled outbursts, and ongoing family strife.

two women arguing I think every child wants to make their parents proud. Perhaps it’s even more true for adult children. We do our best to follow the path set before us, but it can be really challenging to embrace ourselves as individuals,  while also trying to please our parents. There is also that sly sibling rivalry that subconsciously pushes us to try and stand out amongst our brothers and sisters. With so many different personalities to try and accommodate, it’s very hard to resist the urge to try and perfectly orchestrate each moment, to avoid any unnecessary drama.

Of course, we all know what happens when we try and make things “perfect”. Life happens, the whole damn thing blows up in our face, and we vow to never bend over backward for anyone ever again. Even when we’re trying our best to remain mindful of others while staying true to our authentic selves, they might not see it that way. 

older couple angry with each other“Wow, times sure have changed” said my mother in a very passive-aggressive tone as I gently suggested an alternative to her request. Right on cue, came the pang of guilt straight to my heart. Should I have not voiced my opinion? Should I have let my previous perfectionist and people pleaser ways take over? Should I have just put on a happy face and done the damn thing?

Maybe. Maybe not.  I know I can’t be the only one feeling caught in the generational crossfire of different perspectives and opinions with their parents.  Regardless of whether it’s your lifestyle, education, career goals, technology, or how you parent your children, your parents {and other people and family members} will have something to say about it.

While it’s easy to feel defensive, frustrated, and even angry about all the unsolicited opinions and advice, {around what sometimes seems so logical to our generation}, I do think there is learning to be had within these difficult moments.  Conflict can trigger fear, anxiety, and insecurity around our need and desire for safety and belonging, and so we often avoid it along with the necessary conversations needed in order to transform it.  

The truth is that if we stay curious about the individual perspectives of the people involved in any situation of conflict, communicate and act with integrity and respect, it’s possible to transform all that fear and anxiety into something better.  It’s possible that even with different generational opinions we can learn from one another, and accept each other with compassion. 

One of the biggest hurdles to transforming the conflict we encounter with family is making the actual conversation happen. We’ve been conditioned to fear and avoid conflict, so it’s usually avoided altogether.  As more time goes on from that point of friction, resentment builds along with distorted perspectives about what really happened.  

Strategies for Dealing with Generational Differences and Conflict

three generation family on couchHere are some strategies that have been helpful for me in going into these fully loaded conversations.

  1. Organize your thoughts – Getting everything down on paper can really help you sort through the facts versus the emotions involved.  
  2. Positive Intentions – The purpose behind these courageous conversations isn’t to blame others or ignite even more drama.  These conversations are really meant for greater understanding of each other and deeper connection with the ones you love. It can be wonderfully disarming to share this at the beginning of any conversation that you feel has the potential to escalate any further. 
  3. Embrace Tolerance – I often remind myself that I can’t expect other people to be like me, react like me, or understand certain things like me.  Sometimes we have to hold space and be with the fact that we might be very different from our family in many ways and that’s ok!
  4. Take Space and Keep Trying – Some people really want to talk things out immediately, while others might not want to talk at all.  Respect the space others may need, and keep trying to initiate a meaningful conversation. Use this time to be with and process your own emotions.  Let your intentions be known and try to find an agreed-upon time with the other person or party.

Even without the hilarious TikToks and memes pointing out the generational differences between boomers and millennials, we know that we see things inexplicably different than our parents. Thank goodness for humor, because these differences can lead to feeling disconnected from the ones we love in a time when I think people really want to cultivate more meaningful relationships. No doubt, the world has changed, and so have we.


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Kimberly Smith
Kimberly Smith is a Mindset & Resilience Coach and the founder of Encompass Life Coaching. She is a native New Yorker, proud Houstonian, truth seeker, mental health and DEIJ advocate, mother, yogi, and dachshund lover. Kimberly was born in Phoenix, Arizona, raised in upstate New York, lived in Florida where her daughter Amelia {June 2014} was born, and now proudly calls Houston her home. She is degreed in Sociology and Psychology, is an internationally certified life and career coach, and previously spent over a decade in corporate talent acquisition and staffing helping professionals level up and pivot their careers. Now as an entrepreneur, through coaching services, speaking, and writing, Kimberly helps ambitious women, mothers, and entrepreneurs stop stressing and focus, so they can flourish within their careers, families, businesses, and relationships. Kimberly’s clients move through self-doubt, build a positive and resilient mindset while increasing energy and confidence, and crushing their personal and professional goals. Kimberly is a servant leader passionate about dissolving the stigma around mental health, advocating for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, and is dedicated to empowering others to live more authentic lives full of passion, purpose, courage, freedom and adventure. In her free time, Kimberly can be found sweating it out in a hot yoga class, running the White Oak Bayou trail, enjoying live music, exploring Houston markets, museums, and restaurants, or snuggling up on the couch to watch documentaries with her two dachshunds Winnie & Doyal. You can connect with Kimberly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or grab Kimberly’s free Mindset & Affirmations bundle at


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