I just came across this piece I wrote a few years ago for my Dallas Morning News column, Traveling Hopefully. Seemed like a good time to share it again!
Surviving the Family Holiday
‘Tis the season that most of have visions of traffic jams, crowded malls and maxed-out credit cards dancing through our heads. Despite best intentions to rediscover the peace and joy of the holiday season, we somehow find ourselves right back in the same old over-scheduled and over-commercialized patterns as we spend too much, eat too much and stress too much. And a major source of that stress? The dreaded family holiday get-together.
I’m sure you’ve already got all the decorating and entertaining advice you need, so here are some tips to help you not only survive your holiday with the family, but also have a good time. Now wouldn’t that be cause for celebration?
- Make decisions upfront. Decide beforehand, not in the moment, how much time you want to devote to family gatherings and how you’ll gracefully extricate yourself from functions when it’s time to leave. If you know that brunch with the family really means they expect you to arrive at the crack of dawn and leave at midnight, let them you know your planned commitment before you arrive. For example, “We’ll be there for brunch at noon, but we’ll need to leave around three for (feel free to insert an actual event or gentle white lie of your choice here).” That way, you get what you want and no one is surprised or insulted by an abrupt departure. And if they try to guilt you, don’t buy it.
- Communicate expectations and needs for your children. Be clear with extended family members about how to plan and what to expect from your kids, whether it comes to eating preferences, behavior issues or anything else that you anticipate could sour a family gathering. Bring your own food along, if need be, or advise Grandma that your three-year-old is only eating shredded cheddar cheese at the moment so she can have plenty on-hand. Be prepared to ignore well-intended (or not) advice from others about how you should be disciplining your little ones, and instead be sure to give your kids some age-appropriate guidelines for their behavior during family holidays.
- Reach out and connect. Rather than distance yourself from family members with whom you feel you have little in common, or worse, haven’t gotten along with in decades, try reaching out and really connecting by sharing one of their favorite activities, whether it’s fishing, card playing or visiting a neighbor. Honor their interests and go along with someone else’s program for a change. And if you tend to have more in common with Scrooge than St. Nicholas, remind yourself it’s only once a year.
- Create a new ritual. Try something entirely different with your immediate and extended family. Start a family holiday newsletter, make decorations or ornaments, share a cookie baking day, hold a “Secret Santa” drawing, or have a family game show based on old memories. Create something brand new that can be repeated or built upon year after year. This can be a very healing exercise where relationships have been strained or the family has faced challenges like an illness, death or divorce.
- Set aside some time for yourself. Even if you’re surrounded with relatives, make sure you get away for a few minutes or a few hours by yourself or with your immediate family. Go for a walk, take a drive through the old neighborhood or find a quiet spot to read a book. If you need an excuse, blame your solitary activity on your work, your new fitness program or anything else that will minimize discussion and get you out the door for some solo time.
With a little preparation, patience and prayer, you can make this family holiday the best ever. Warm wishes for a joyous season and for traveling hopefully into the new year!