The Holidays and Relationships …
Well, the holidays are here again and finances, family, food, rituals and raking leaves are on the mind. Some of these things are comforting and wonderful, and other things are — uh — not.
Since I’ve been around a long time, I know what clients love and hate about the holidays, so I’m going to offer my reflections on what’s worthwhile about the holiday season and how to deal with the things that aren’t so fun. Here goes …
On the bright and sparkly side …
· Bonding opportunities abound. Rituals are things people do together that strengthen their relationship, and the strengthening of the relationship is called bonding. The more bonds a marriage or family has the stronger it will be, so bonds are a very good thing! There are endless rituals families can do together that fit the bill, and they can be simple or … not. Watching TV on the couch every night, cooking, bowling on Wednesdays, having friends over every Tuesday, weekends at the river … during the holidays it can be a special dish that you serve, a certain way that you dress, a toast that you make, goodies that you make, a game that you play, preparing stockings for everyone, a certain movie you watch every Christmas Eve … the ideas are endless. I urge every family to have holiday rituals that strengthen their bonds!
· Love Languages … People of all ages have love languages, if you don’t know what they are, here’s your chance to learn. The love languages were first realized by therapist and author, Gary Chapman who wrote the book the Five Love Languages, and they are the categories of actions we can take that make our loved ones feel loved. Bring this list and ask someone you care about, what is your love language? Once you find out, you’ll know what to do to keep that love alive — it’s wonderful to stoke to fire of love and caring …
1. Physical touch. If this is one of your loved one’s love languages, you need to find out what kind of touch and how often. Then do it.
2. Words of Affirmation. Appreciation, love expressed, caring affirmed.
3. Quality time. It is, what it says it is. Your focused attention and/or time, in the way your loved one appreciates.
4. Acts of service. Take a load off your busy loved one’s day by doing a chore or an errand, help clean up, babysit the kids so she can rest, wash his car.
5. Gifts. Money and value isn’t the thing. Could be a card or a flower picked on the side of the road. Most loved ones especially love gifts that fill a need that you’ve taken note of, like a night light for the hall if they get up, a warm robe for the cold bathroom, a cell phone charger for their car.
· Another word about gifts. I know people who think it is blasphemy to tell your loved one what you’d like to receive for Christmas, and others who swear by the list concept. In no way is it greedy to let people what you’d like to receive for a gift, and it is absolutely OK to want things. As for me, I always believe in what is kind and thoughtful towards the person I am buying for, so I like to give my loved ones some things they tell me they want, and a little something they wouldn’t splurge on for themselves. So I ask for a list, and then I throw in some surprises. The key to being a gift-giver is knowing who you’re buying for and the types of things they love and enjoy. If you don’t know what that is, ask. The best gifts I ever received were not expensive, but showed that the giver put thought into it. Yes, receiving is wonderful fun! But I also love the joy and delight of giving, and think it is a wonderful thing to encourage in your young family members.
· In the end, love. Show it, give it, be open about it.
On the less sparkly side …
We all have things we don’t like about the holidays. Many have crazy family members, too many people they are expected to visit, doing too much cooking and preparing without enough assistance, spending too much, eating and drinking too much … what’s a person to do?
· Crazy family members. We all have ’em, but once we’re grown up there is no law that says we are obligated to spend lots of time with them — or any, for that matter. So while you may tell yourself you have no choice, you really do. I highly recommend severely limiting time spent with unpleasant people, and if you do decide to be around them, play a game with yourself like when you step into their house you are really stepping into a movie that is a comedy, and you are visiting these weird characters who will amuse you briefly and then you leave.
· Too many people to visit. Young couples complain to me regularly that, “We have to go visit his parents, then his aunt, then his cousins, and then my family and we’re fitting in about 10 stops in 18 hours and I hate it.” This sort of insanity is very easy to fix, and that is by learning to tell family members with expectations a very warm, friendly, “Sorry, we can’t make it!” If your spouse hates visiting your extended family and friends over the holidays please do not subject them to it. Look out for her and have her back … create a holiday visit plan that works for both of you, and consider the possibility of having your own Christmas together and not visiting anyone at all.
· Too much cooking, doing, preparing and not enough help. It takes a team to create huge family meals without stress! Limit your menu, cook ahead and freeze, request that people bring a dish, buy part of the meal from a caterer like your local grocery store, and ask your family to help decorate, set the table and create a family ritual of whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean, and vice versa. Create a cooking crew and clean-up crew with your attendees. If you can’t or don’t know how to ask for help, it’s time to learn. If you’re a control freak and don’t want another person involve, get over yourself and invite the helpers to help.
· Spending too much. When my kids were little I did this and the way I remedied it was to decide how much was reasonable for me to spend per person in my family, and then I stick to my budget. I tell myself if I can’t pay it all off by February, my budget is too high. Over the years I have severely limited my list of people I buy things for to my husband, our kids and the people who work for us. No more gifts for siblings, nieces, nephews, friends … it just got to be too much. Cutting my gift list took loads of stress away, too. Some families draw a name so that they only have to buy one gift — anyway you cut your responsibilities down, I’m all for it.
· Eating and drinking too much. I once read that the average American eats 10,000 calories on Christmas Day, and I do think there are times to indulge yourself, and times to hold back. I enjoy eating a healthy diet most of the time, and if I’m going to over-eat it is going to be at some wonderful holiday meal or when I’m on vacation in a beautiful place that has the best crab cakes or bread pudding around. It’s all in how you conduct yourself most of the time. A life of deprivation is not a life, so why even try? As far as drinking, I always think that should be done in moderation, but if you fail at that, we now have Uber or Lyft, which I’ve used several times in different cities and have found it quick, easy, affordable and headache-free.
At the end of the day, it’s about creating memories, and being as good to yourself as you are to others. Here’s to wishing you a great and peaceful holiday season!