Yes, You Can Survive The Family Holiday!

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'Tis the season of traffic jams, crowded malls and maxed-out credit cards. Despite best intentions to rediscover the peace and joy of the holiday season, we often 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.

For many of us, a major source of that stress is the dreaded family holiday get-together. So here are some tips to help you not only survive your holiday with the family, but actually have a good time. Wouldn't that be cause for celebration?

  1. Make decisions upfront.  Decide beforehand, not in the moment, how much time you want to devote to your 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 down and leave at midnight, let them know your planned commitment before you arrive.
  2. Communicate expectations and needs for 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, high chair, or playpen along, if need be and 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 events.
  3. 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.
  4. Reach out and connect. Try reaching out and really connecting with loved ones  (even the difficult types) by sharing 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 intend to have more in common with Scrooge than St. Nicholas, remind yourself it's only once a year.
  5. 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. This can be especially healing where relationships have been strained or the family has faced challenges like an illness, death or divorce.

With a little preparation and patience, you can make this holiday the best ever. Warm wishes for a joyous season and for traveling hopefully into the New Year!