We’re diving straight into the holidays season for the first time in two years. Despite the love you share with your family, stress represents the number one side effect—some suggestions on how to manage gatherings that will make it easier on everyone.
This week may represent the first time you’ve hosted a formal holiday since the bush fires in Australia consumed the news headlines.
Remember that story back in December 2019? Thereafter, Covid took root on the global stage. News Headlines, Fauci, local infection rates, and the spread of the global pandemic kept us glued to our screens. This prompted a shortage of paper products of all things. Rumor has it the Charmin bears went into hibernation.
Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and formal holiday gatherings in 2020 were off the table by and large for most of the country. We haven’t been this available (given the vaccines) for a long time and almost every family I talk to is hosting or going to a Thanksgiving event via plane, train, or automobile. God help you if you find yourself seated alone next to John Candy.
We’re all getting back together with our loved ones, in-laws and all, and the experience will of course include some stress, a dash of disfunction, and a lapse of memory due to the absence of mass family gatherings—your relatives’ warts and imperfections remain the same.
You are, first and foremost, a father. You and your wife set the example for the next generation. It’s times like these when you have to turn the cheek, hold yourself and your immediate family accountable, and to quote Churchill, “Keep calm and carry on.”
Easier said than done of course. Like in sports, where armchair quarterbacks can easily groan on about the demise or rise of sports teams, it’s easy for an author to rattle off ongoing challenges when it comes to extended-family gatherings. But I did write a book titled Rookie Father that will be released by a global publisher so perhaps I know a thing or two.
Some suggestions for parents to consider during the holiday season, which I touch on in my forthcoming book:
Stress is in the Mind: Think about it, our reaction to a situation can either prompt more concern or less. The ‘stress’ you personally experience exists exclusively between your ears. It’s all about how you react. Embrace the Dali Lama this holiday season and let immediate concerns wash over you. Reassure yourself the issues you’re dealing with, whether it’s a nephew who likes to use a hammer on sheetrock walls or an uncle who tells dirty jokes to teenagers… holiday gatherings are not like baseball games. These events take place during a window of limited time, which will end. This touches on the next suggestion.
Limit Your Window of Holiday Time – Who wrote the rule that you had to stay five entire days with your family? You and your wife have the authority to determine how much your immediate family shares with extended relatives. If you feel any anxiety at Thanksgiving, knowing that you have a longer stay a few weeks later at Christmas, speak to your spouse and set an expiration date. If you’re hosting family, shout from the rooftops how excited you are to see them come December 24th! And in the next breathe, note your immediate family has plans for a get-away excursion on December 27th. And be honest—do in fact schedule something, even if it’s a one-night stay in a city, indoor waterpark, or amusement park.
Empathetic Communication – Back to that uncle noted above who tells dirty jokes to the teenagers in your family. When and if you have to express your concerns, do so using empathetic communication. This ensures the person you speak to understands how you are feeling… which has a better chance of modifying their behavior compared to any other method. “Uncle, when you tell dirty jokes to the kids, it’s really concerning because it sets a bad example. What if they repeat those jokes in the classroom?” This approach will often give pause to the perpetrator. Sometimes you have to grin and bear minor misdemeanors, but if you set an expiration date with your immediate family, you have that to lean on if nothing else.
When all else Fails… Play with the Kids! – Have you ever wanted to disembark from an adult conversation that drives you nuts? Well, there are likely 2-10 kids running amuck in the house. Grab them, get a ball, and go outside. If the weather sucks, find a room or go to the basement. Bring some board games if need be or some ping pong balls – it is literally impossible to break anything in one’s home when one throws them about and you can make up a game on the fly. For the record, it would be rude to pull this off during short family gatherings, but it does represent a viable outlet and the kids will love you for it. I once scared the hell out of my son and niece playing hide and seek… they could not find me for 20 minutes, and when I surfaced from under a comforter stowed in the bottom of a closet, they ran for their lives!
Lastly, let’s be thankful that we have the opportunity to be with our loved ones again. If it were not for available vaccines, our outlook on life, the economy, and the risk of death would be far worse.
Let’s embrace the season and celebrate life itself.