And away we go! They are here again! The holidays have arrived and the daily demands of time, money and resources begin. These little thoughts, nudges and whispers are for you, not for your kids, your spouse or your family. Simply for you, and you alone. These aren’t tips for how to cook, what to buy, what to wear, what to give or where to go.
Now let’s just put it out there, many people (and I mean many) do not like the holidays. Period. Yet the truth is, it really doesn’t matter if you like the holidays or not – they are here and just by virtue of time moving along, you have to cope and manage. Crazy Aunt Toots and your demanding mother-in-law are going to show up no matter how you feel. So let’s focus on you and look at some ideas to help you manage your feelings and get through these days.
Holidays by definition traditionally include the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's Day celebrations. But we all get together with loved ones, no matter what our spiritual beliefs. I’m not agnostic or diagnostic – I would never tell you who to worship or what to believe or what holidays are important to celebrate. So let’s just put it out there, these tips will help you no matter what your belief system is, as we all have family, relatives and occasions to celebrate.
So here we go, tips and help:
1. Use your boundaries. Simple, easy and needed, understanding and using boundaries will keep your holidays manageable. Boundaries are like buckets – each of us has our bucket of stuff to manage. I carry mine and you carry yours. It’s not really your concern if your sister is working at a crappy job of which you don’t approve. And, it’s not Uncle Joe’s issue if he doesn’t like your new girlfriend or how long your hair is. These are issues that are not for others to judge, yet judge they will. Understanding and paying attention to the role of boundaries can keep you aware of what is appropriate and where to put your attention. Just the simple act of recognizing this can save you tons of grief. Keep your boundaries, keep your cool, keep your joy.
2. No explanation needed. Here’s a flash: the holidays are not a time when you have to appear in front of the family to defend yourself. If someone pointedly asks you why you haven’t gotten a new car/job/lover/whatever this year, you don’t have to explain yourself. You might feel as if you do but you really don’t. If you get the raised eyebrow or the scornful look, it’s your job to let it go. You know why? Because it’s the better option in terms of taking care of you, that’s why. Really, what will you accomplish by trying to make your point or defend your decision? You know what is good for you, you are the manager of your life, so keep it at that and don’t feel the need to explain yourself away.
3. Watch for the hook. You know those little comments dropped off for you to pick up? The little innuendos that are meant to get you to engage in some sort of controversy or argument? This takes some practice as we are all inclined to simply answer questions as they arise. These hooks are usually passive aggressive attempts to engage, so just stay away baby, stay away. Want some options you can use instead of feeling like you have to answer? If you are asked a question and you don’t want to answer, here are some options: (1) I’ll have to think about that (2) I really couldn’t say (3) Jeez, I am not sure (4) Well, what do you think? and the most powerful of them all (5) I really don’t feel like getting into that. You don’t have to answer every question asked of you. “Why did you do this?” can be met with “I don’t want to talk about this now” Boom. End of issue.
4. Children? Prepare them please. Help them out; give them the groundwork for the day and event. Pinched cheeks, offhanded comments about how they look, and food offered to them that they don’t want to touch, etc. can bring about added stress neither of you need to deal with. Manners are one thing, but forcing them to act differently is another. Arm them with information and teach them how to manage these situations. Who is coming, who is not, what you will eat, when you will leave, what you expect in terms of behavior, what you don’t, etc. are all issues to discuss. The more you prepare them and teach them, the better able they will be to manage the day. They too, will grow up and when they become adults and have their own families to manage.
5. Use ‘I’ statements. Using ‘I’ statements is one of the easiest things you can do to manage your conversations. If you have children, make sure to teach them this as well. ‘I’ statements are important b/c they keep a conversation neutral. So let’s roll play. Mom comes in and says to you. ‘Why didn’t you come on vacation with us this summer? You really disappointed your father.’ Now you can say “you always jump me when I come in the door, leave me alone.’ Fair enough. But this creates animosity with both of you and puts you on the defensive.
Here’s another option, we’ll start at the beginning again: Mom comes in and says to you, ‘Why didn’t you come on vacation with us this summer? You really disappointed your father.’ Now you say “I really don’t want to discuss this with you Mom. I don’t appreciate trying to talk about this now, let’s just enjoy the day.’ When you ‘own’ the response by using your ‘I’ statements, you manage the conversation and you aren’t put on the defensive.
6. Plan your ‘time’ and ‘time’ your plan. Time to come, time to go, time to stay and time to visit. Get your events planned down to the details – what you are wearing, what you are bringing, when you will leave, who you will bring. The more planned the time is, the easier it is to manage. I’ve seen family members have huge disagreements because one wants to stay and visit some more and one wants to leave (i.e. get the hell out of dodge). Come up with your plan and your time management, communicate it to all, and stick to it. When you have a plan put in place and you’ve clearly communicated to all involved what day you visit, what time you will arrive, and when you will go, you eliminate arguments and avoid controversy.
7. Create a password. Have you ever been at a social gathering or family event and needed to communicate with your child, friend, spouse, etc. that you need to leave, or you don’t feel well or something is up and despite your attempts to get their attention, you can’t communicate with them? Or maybe your kids had a fight with their cousin and are too shy to interrupt your conversation so they sulk the rest of the day. These pent up emotions and worries can make the day miserable. If you come up with a word or gesture or something that is your ‘team’ password that you can use to get each other’s attention, you will be able to communicate with each other, no matter what is going on. It’s a simple management tool that empowers all.
8. Overlook the obvious. Holidays are often a time for pulling together disparate groups - when you visit new families, invite your new in-laws to dinner, offer an invitation to a neighbor to celebrate the holiday with your family, you are blending traditions and expectations. Growing up, we were always expected to dress in our holiday best for our formal holiday dinner. I’ve shown up for holiday dinners dressed in my best, only to be greeted by slippers and sweatshirts and big smiles. Our traditions were different from others – I decided then and there to embrace the day and let it go. Give yourself the gift of overlooking the obvious and letting your assumptions of how things should be go. ‘Different’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’, it simply means different. Overlook the obvious and get on with the day.
9. Try to remember. The holidays can make you feel as if you ‘should be’ happy or joyous or feeling wonderful. Yet reality is always around the corner, and when you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed and just plain ole stuck, you can get to another place by focusing on another time. Pretend you are seven. Remember that feeling of peace, wonderment and joy? Might take some time to get there but give it a shot. Dig deep and pull into those feelings that held the holiday in a different place. Capture these feelings, they’ll pull you through and give you a sense of belonging and joy. We’ve all had a holiday that brought us smiles – this can bridge where you are now to where you were, it’s a powerful tool, just takes some effort.
10. Environmental controls. Control your environment vs. having it control you. Don’t leave the details up to chance, because, as they say ‘it’s all in the details’ – so maybe a formal restaurant isn’t an ideal option if Aunt Mary is bringing her new grandchildren and maybe offering a potluck isn’t going to work when your Mom brings a dish to serve 4 when you are hosting dinner for 20. And what about the cost of food and alcohol? Who does what, where it happens and who contributes what, are all details to hash out before the holiday.
Have a plan in place for the smokers (I’ve asked them to head outside to the deck), the drinkers (no, you can not offer the 15year old a beer) the place (we did it last year, it is your turn) and the time (we eat at 2:00, you can give the little ones a snack beforehand). Remember your concerns are yours, it’s not the job of others to create an environment that just suites your family and vice versa. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t.
I'll post ten more tips for fighting holiday stress in the next week.
2009 Copyright Kim Roman Corle, Taylor Consulting LLC
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