Monday, November 28, 2011

Your Unique Holiday Signature

Many thanks to Viva Magazine for permission to reprint this article from my December 2011 column.

Much like the summer vacation – anticipated with visions of family fun – that somehow spirals into fighting children and exhausted parents, the holidays may not always look like what we initially envision.  The cultural pressure to create a Norman Rockwell event can be daunting. Children complain, things don’t go as planned and you enter the New Year feeling disappointed rather than energized.  You can create a terrific family holiday season that has your unique signature rather than Norman Rockwell’s.  Here are three ideas for holiday success:

Recognize your agenda.  We feel stress when things are not going according to plan even if that plan is below our level of awareness.   If you enter the holidays with a concrete agenda – especially one that includes specific responses from others – it is a setup for disappointment.  Stay present.  Notice stress and find ways to relax.  Awareness of your agenda is the first step.  If you have Rockwell visions and a Chagall reality, that is OK!  It is what we tell ourselves about that distance between Rockwell and Chagall that influences our enjoyment.

Involve your children as much as possible in planning and preparing.  When children feel valuable and powerful – such as when they wrap gifts, plan a meal, serve appetizers at your holiday party, provide suggestions for gifts, are asked their opinion, and save their money to buy gifts for family and friends – they act out less.  If your child is interested in photography, ask her to be the official family holiday photographer.  If your child enjoys writing, ask him to document your holiday or to write your holiday letter. 

Set boundaries for situations that have high conflict possibilities.  You know the triggers for you and your family.  Avoid the big ones, if possible.  Have a plan for the others.  It is much easier to handle a tough situation if you have decided how to address it ahead of time.  Think of specific words to use – words that create peace – and the boundary that you will set.  If a visiting relative has a child who is demanding, have a loving yet firm response in mind before they arrive.  If your child doesn’t enjoy hugging people yet is pressured to do so by grandparents or others, be prepared to set a boundary that respects your child’s wishes, such as, “Jake prefers not to hug, and we respect his decision.” 

Have a happy holiday that is a beautiful and unique reflection of your family!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Finest Holiday Gift for Your Family

The holidays have begun, and the next few posts will have suggestions on creating peaceful celebrations while reducing the stress. Parkland Life magazine has kindly permitted this re-print of my December 2011 columnEnjoy!

In looking back over the December columns from the last few years, we’ve talked about Peaceful Holidays, Focus on Giving, The Present of Presence, Traditions, Holiday Gimmes, and Enjoying More in an Age of Less.  All articles share a common thread – what you can do to increase the unity that this time of year symbolizes while you reduce the annoying, stressful things – demands from your children who pressure you to new heights of consumerism, gift-giving that puts your bank account into the red, fighting that disrupts time together, and feeling over-whelmed with making the holidays “ideal”.  Holidays are rich in meaning and you want your family’s holiday experience to be enriching.  Here are four key suggestions from past December columns to remind you of the finest gift you can give your family – the enriching, soothing, unifying time that you spend together.  That is what you and your children will remember.

Practice Family Traditions.  Your family traditions can include annual activities like neighborhood caroling, seeing a performance of the Nutcracker, ice skating or preparing holiday treats for friends. One mom created a unique Advent Calendar for the month of December.  Behind each day was a theme or activity, such as “Today I will Help Carry Something for Someone Else” or “Today We Will Play Games Together with No TV.”   Each evening the family would discuss what they did that day.  The children shifted from rolling their eyes on the first few days to being totally engaged as the month continued. (December, 2002)

Create Opportunities to Serve.  Your family can share the joy of giving by scheduling time during the holidays to volunteer at a nursing home, hospital, or animal shelter.  Sing to the elderly or to children confined in the hospital.  Bake cookies to give.  Planting seeds or cuttings in small pots can make lovely gifts, and if cultivated far enough in advance, you can have herbs or flowering plants to give.   Make wreathes, ornaments, or assemble baskets of toiletries.  Take a huge box of dog biscuits to the animal shelter. (December, 2005)

Give the present of presence to you and your children.  Slow down.  Practice mindfulness by tuning into your senses.  Notice how the air feels on your skin right now.  When you give a hug, place your hand on your child’s back and feel her heart beating.  Feel the warmth of her touch and softness of her skin.  Breathe deeply.  Let your belly expand.  Take the time for 10 deep breaths.  Make connecting with your child your highest intention at least twice a day.  Provide focused attention for your child.  Say, “tell me more” then listen to her response.  Her response is the gift for you. (December, 2007)

Create a Giving List.  For a young child, around age seven or eight, his giving list can include gifts for mom, dad, siblings and even pets.  As your child gets older, his list can grow annually to include grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers and friends.  In making gift choices, emphasize that it is not the cost or size of the gift but the expression of your child’s love that matters most.  Spend time talking about what the recipient enjoys so that the gift can be thoughtful and appropriate.  Include gifts that he can make.  A drawing, beaded necklace, poem, woven potholder, or photograph taken by your child will be treasured.  Cards which say “This Entitles You to One Back Rub” or “I Will Clean the Dinner Table” make terrific gifts that cost nothing.  (December, 2009)
Happy holidays and enjoy creating those memories!