When Andy Williams sang the lyric, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” he must have been joking. What with presents to buy, parties to attend, and cheer to spread, we often find ourselves wondering what the heck is so happy about the holidays. Here are three principles to guide you through the holidays with your sanity in tact.
1. Our kids reflect our own attitudes and emotions.
If they are anxious, they are picking that up from us. If they are ungrateful, it’s because we’ve trained them to be. If they are unruly, it’s because we’ve allowed the craziness of the holiday to override their need for structure. The other day I saw a bumper sticker that perfectly illustrates this concept. It read: “My kids think I’m an ATM machine.” This begs the question, Where did they get that crazy idea?
How many times have you heard people complain that their kids are acting greedy when the holiday is supposed to be about giving. By recognizing that our kids are feeding off of our energy far more than we imagine, we start to see that we train our kids to be greedy by giving them too much. It’s not the other way around.
If you find yourself frustrated with your children around the holidays, stop for a moment and take a look at what messages you are sending out.
2. Family vacation is an oxymoron.
Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he declared, “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.” Few things are more taxing than packing up the kids and braving the airport or the highways during the holiday season. If we remember that, we might be able to keep our cool a bit better. Furthermore, when we travel to be with our loved ones or they travel to be with us, we tend to forget how hard it is and we put pressure on ourselves and those around us to have a “happy holiday.” We idealize the holiday season and look to it to make up for the difficulties inherent in any family unit. We set our expectations unrealistically high and feel like failures when reality falls short. We expect the holidays to be the salve of the year.
So what can we do? Here are two suggestions to release some of the pressure before it begins to build:
• Find a middle ground between Norman Rockwell and Norman Bates. If we temper our expectations with a healthy dose of reality and perspective, the chances of actually having a fun family holiday increase dramatically. A simple phrase to remember might be, “It won’t be the worst holiday ever unless I try to make it the best.”
• Live in the present. Starting right after Halloween, retail stores, commercials, and radio stations start pushing you towards those perfect holiday plans before you can even steal the last Kit Kat from your child’s candy stash. Try this tip: Talk about plans only when absolutely necessary. While some amount of anticipation is enjoyable, too much will distract you from the present, which is really where your kids need you the most.
3. Remember, it’s always easier to complain than to change.
Take a moment to think about what goes on with your children or your extended family during the holidays that just drives you nuts.
• Little Jason throws a tantrum because Grandma bought him the wrong videogame.
• Your mother spoils your kids rotten and makes your presents look like a joke.
• Your brother and his ungrateful brood leave their dirty clothes all over your floor and never pitch in after dinner to clean up.
Now think about this: It is easy to point out what everyone else does during the holidays to make life miserable, but it’s far more difficult to point out our part in those patterns. But though it’s difficult, it is ultimately beneficial. You are the only one you can change. Buying into this concept can allow you to focus on yourself and begin creating the type of holiday you’ve always wanted.
Turn the tables on traditional finger pointing. Instead of finding blame, ask questions! Ask your spouse and your kids what you do around the holidays that gets under their skin. You just might be surprised at their answers.