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!