Magazine article Work & Family Life

Making Your Holiday Celebrations Less about Stress and More about Fun

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Making Your Holiday Celebrations Less about Stress and More about Fun

Article excerpt

Single or married, parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles, grandparents: we all have a vision of what we would like the holiday season to be. Our visions are not the same, because we grew up in different families, at different times and in different places - but, chances are, we share some of the same expectations.

Many of us try to recreate holidays we enjoyed as kids. As the Atlanta family therapist and author Frank Pittman, M. D., observes, we "package our expectations" of family love during the holiday season. "We want the occasions to be perfect and we want all our dreams - of connection, harmony, joy and bliss - to come true."

Family ties tend to be tightest at this time of year, Dr. Pittman says, but so are family stresses. Holidays give us a chance to reconnect with our past, and they also provide fertile ground for conflict. Deciding whose family to visit or how much travel you can (or care to) manage are potential sore spots. When singles and couples visit their parents, instead of a happy reunion they sometimes get a replay of sibling rivalry or resurfaced grudges.

Here are some suggestions to help you anticipate these issues and add enjoyment to your holidays.

For family get-togethers

* START WITH A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. See the holidays as an opportunity to catch up with relatives and old friends. If you haven't spent much time with your siblings lately, you might remind yourself: "We're grown up now. We don't have to compete for anyone's affection." And don't be surprised if college-age kids want to spend more time with their friends than with you. Just make sure they're home for important meals and holiday activities.

* TOGETHERNESS HAS ITS PITFALLS. If someone gets angry or something awkward happens, take it in stride. It happens in every family. Every little criticism isn't worth an argument. Try to avoid falling back into old family roles: you don't have to be the "fixer-upper" or the "kid sister" if you don't want to be. Take parental "advice" with a grain of salt. And be aware that holiday visits are not the best time to repair old wounds or bring up difficult topics such as your uncle's drinking problem or your daughter's new tattoo.

* BE REALISTIC. Talk with family and friends about your expectations for the holidays. What's most important to everyone: fancy decorations, gifts, family dinners, visitino- friends? Alert grandparents to your holiday plans, and give them a chance to do some of their favorite things too. And with the flow: if your son falls in love at college and wants to spend time with his girlfriend's family or one set of grandparents decides to go on a cruise, it's OK.

If you try something new

* GIVE THE PEOPLE INVOLVED time to get used to any new activities, especially if you have shared the same rituals for years.

* DON'T SEND MIXED MESSAGES. If you really do want your adult children to start their own holiday traditions, don't give them an alternative that s so exciting they cant resist.

* COMBINE THE OLD AND NEW. Maintain important family rituals even if you are away from home. If you always exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, do that no matter where you are.

For singles who decide to stay put

* BE ACTIVE. If you're spending the holidays on your own, make plans. Get together with friends. Eat out, see a movie, go dancing - do what you enjoy.

* BE CREATIVE. Have a holiday meal with mends and coworkers. …

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