You’re making plans and envisioning the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell holiday. You want it to be perfect. Of course you do. But…there’s no such thing and in attempting to create the perfect holiday you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
It’s our own expectations, not others’ behavior, that creates disappointment and frustration, and can suck the joy out of the holidays.
When you know that Uncle Harry ties one on every year at Thanksgiving, expecting him not to tie one on this year is likely to create disappointment. Instead, consider leaving earlier in the evening before he’s completely looped and picking a fight or singing Christmas carols in his underwear.
If your three year old son is a wild child, expecting him to sit quietly twiddling his thumbs in the backseat of the car for the three hour drive to Uncle Harry’s is likely to create disappointment (and no small amount of frustration for both you and your son). Instead, pack picture books, toys, and snacks so your little guy doesn’t get either bored or hungry.
And if you know that your sister-in-law and your mother-in-law always go rounds over the dinner table…rather than expecting that somehow, some way, this year is going to be different, put them at opposite ends of the table and enlist the help of other family members to engage each of them in conversation (and be prepared to break it up if they manage to go at one another anyway).
It’s easy to point the finger at the black sheep in the family and pronounce him or her responsible for the debacle that has become your family holiday but the reality is…that person is simply being who they are.
Like it or don’t, but don’t expect that someone is going to suddenly depart from their normal behavior simply because you have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.
While it’s natural to want the holidays to be a time of love and connection, and family bonding, it’s important to remember that it can also be a stressful time and one (because of the family get-togethers) that tends to trigger old behavioral patterns and unresolved emotions.
Suddenly you and your grown sister are bickering like you did in elementary school, or you’re shrinking (and feeling like you’re 9 again) under the critical eye of your mother as she provides commentary on your housekeeping or parenting skills.
Remembering that this can be both a joyful and a stressful time for you and your loved ones will go a long way toward keeping you focused on being compassionate rather than critical, and making the most of your time with your family even if it isn’t quite as you envisioned.
Here are a few tips to help you make the holidays as fun and enjoyable as possible:
Check your expectations at the door and vow to make the most of your time with your family – quirks and all.
Plan activities that will help keep everyone present in the moment. It can be a great way to encourage everyone to have fun and to keep the conflict to a minimum. Get a game of flag football going or break out the poker chips and cards. Get the kids involved in helping with meal prep or setting the table. Dim the lights and settle in to watch the family’s favorite holiday movie or play a rousing game of charades.
Limit the alcohol. Don’t rush to break out the booze at noon, and don’t rush to keep everyone’s glasses perpetually full. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and loosens tongues…not a great recipe for family harmony.
Anticipate, and plan for, any potential problems. If you know your little one will be starving and in desperate need of a nap come 3pm…don’t plan dinner for that hour, or plan to feed the little ones before the adults sit down. If you know a particular topic sets your mother off on a diatribe…don’t bring up that topic! (Really…sometimes it is just that simple.)
Ease your own stress as much as possible…don’t take on hosting and cooking the entire meal for 40. Enlist help. Hire someone to come in to clean the day before. Have family members bring side dishes, or dessert. Set up an after dinner assembly line to clean up the post-meal mess. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage before or after.
Lighten up. Remember to breathe and to keep your sense of humor. That side dish that blew up in the microwave? Laugh it off. The dog wildly chasing the cat as she weaves through the legs of your guests? Grab your camera and hope to get a good shot of the action for America’s Funniest Videos.
Remember that it is NOT your job to keep everyone happy. While it’s a noble intention…it’s an impossibility. You aren’t responsible for, nor can you control, everyone else’s feelings. You can set the stage for everyone to enjoy the holiday but you can’t guarantee it. If Aunt Emily is bound and determined to moan and complain all day…there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Tempting as it may be to attempt to cajole her out of her bad mood, all you’re likely to do is drag yourself down too. Rather than buy into it, ignore it.
Consider how you might simplify. Go casual. Do you really need the fine china? Or would everyone have more time to enjoy one another if you bought pretty disposal plates and serving dishes and cut the clean up in half? Must you prepare every dish? Order a Honey-Baked Ham instead. Or bake every dessert? Marie Callendar’s makes a pretty darn good pie. Do you really need to spend three days decking the halls from floor to ceiling? Maybe a pretty tree and a nice wreath on the door are enough.
Plan ahead. Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Do what you can in advance, at a more relaxed pace and you’ll enjoy the actual holiday celebration that much more.
Don’t overextend yourself. You don’t have to accept every invitation to every party or get-together. If you keep yourself on an intense schedule before the holiday, you’ll be stressed out before you even get started.
What do you do to ensure the holidays are as enjoyable as they can be? How do you minimize the potential for conflict? If you’ve got some great tips and tricks of your own…please! Do share!