The gift of intentionality.
As the holidays quickly approach, I wanted to share a few thoughts with parents that hopefully can help contribute to a positive holiday experience for you and your family. Most of us look forward to the holidays as we get some time off and have the opportunity to spend quality moments with our family. Most children & adolescents alike, are cheerful about the holidays: There’s NO SCHOOL, with the added bonus of PRESENTS & GIFTS!!! What’s not to look forward to? Well, for one, even in loving, cooperative families, not everyone gets along all the time: siblings argue, parents disagree, and in-laws sometimes interfere!!! More time together during a period where family routines have dramatically changed (no school, everyone’s home) often results in some chaos. Here are a few thoughts and ideas that might help this holiday season:
1. Temper your expectations. Yes, holidays can be fun and joyous occasions, but they can also be stressful, and many American’s report experiencing a lower mood during the holiday season. Getting to spend more time with your children sounds great, but remember the beginning of the pandemic? We all thought spending more time together as a family was going to be great! Well, turns out…maybe not so much, or at the very least, spending more time together wasn’t always the special time we thought it was supposed to be. Commercialism and Social Media have created a narrative that holidays are a time when everyone is happy and that incredible bonding is the expectation. That we are going to sit around the fire, hold hands, and sing family bonding songs that our ancestors sang. If you look at your social media posts, you are going to see pictures and stories of happy, together, loving families. But it’s often a BIG LIE, or at least a good portion of it is. It’s not that most families don’t have moments of family bonding and togetherness, but to think that the entirety of the holiday is going to resemble the picture that we post on social media is setting yourself and your family up for failure, because that’s not realistic. Put 3-7 people in a house together, 24/7, for 2 weeks where nothing is the same as it was for the months leading up to it, and you have yourself a reality TV show!!! Temper your expectations.
2. Remember what’s truly important. At the end of the day, does it matter if your 9 year old opened an expensive gift, said “awesome” then immediately started tearing into the next present without any “thanks mom and dad”? When at the end of your time, will you care that your 13 year old didn’t thank Aunt Susie with as much enthusiasm as you were hoping for? A year from now, are you going to care (or even remember) that your father-in-law uttered a rude comment about the ham being overcooked? I’m not suggesting that you should let everything go, but only to have perspective on it. Ask yourself “Is this going to matter five years from now?” If not, maybe it’s not worth spending your emotional and behavioral time and effort on it. Rather, ask yourself “what is going to matter 5 years from now, or even 20 years from now?” Imagine you are older and your kids have grown and are no longer living with you. What image of this holiday do you hope to have? What do you want your children to think of you? What are the things you cherish most about your children? These are the things people tend to care about when they reflect on their life and roles as parents. So focus on these. Which leads me to…
3. Spend quality time with the people that matter to you. We never know how many hours we will have with anyone. Make your time with others a positive experience, even those you’re challenged by. The people who matter most in your life will be gathered in your home. Spend time with them. And consider doing it in a way that you may not get to do a lot of the time: by being truly present, in the moment, with them. Put down your phone, get off your computer, turn off the TV (at least for periods of time). Clear your mind, and focus on the younger person sitting across the table, on the couch, running around the house. Interact with them. Do things with them. Play games with them. Get down on the ground and play. Be a bit kidlike yourself, play Hide-n-Seek with them. For teenagers, watch them play the new video game they got for Christmas for a bit, as they orchestrate the destruction on the screen that you are worried might ruin their brains!!! Ask them to help with some part of the meal preparation WITH YOU. Heap vast amounts of love, praise, and attention on them. These are the people that you love the most and love you the most. Take advantage of this opportunity and set aside quality time to be with them. There are only so many of these chances you’ll get, and it would be unfortunate if you looked back on them with a sense of regret, when they are older, and you are older, that you didn’t make the most of the opportunities you had. (Also, when doing this, remember #1 above…they may not all end up as Hallmark moments).
4. They are watching and learning from you all the time. Model the behavior you want to see. It seems so simple, yet it can be so hard to do. Put another way: How can you expect them to be patient, compliant, and respectful if you are impatient, snappy, and rude?? (Actually, you can expect it, but you are highly unlikely to see it!). Parents set the emotional tone for the family. But wait a minute: I’m the adult, and they are just kids. They don’t have the same stress as I do!!! You are 100% accurate, they don’t. But don’t you remember what it was like to be a kid? Just because they don’t have the stressors of work, finances, bills, meals, etc etc, DOESN’T mean they don’t have stressors. We just tend to minimize their stressors BECAUSE WE FORGOT how stressful is was when we were their age!!! Friends opinions, parents fighting, spending time with relatives they don’t like, wanting to start playing with a new toy but being told maybe later….as a kid, these are just as stressful to them as “we went way over the Christmas budget” is to us. There’s an interesting phenomenon in psychology called the Fundamental Attribution Error and a grossly simplified version of it is this: When we act inappropriately, it’s because of external causes (stress, running late, etc.); when others act inappropriately, it’s because of stable, internal causes (i.e., they are mean, rude, etc.). Parents are guilty of this too. We let ourselves off the hook for “not our best behaviors” but call our children on their bad behaviors a lot. While I’m not suggesting you let serious behavioral issues go, perhaps over this holiday just give some consideration to picking your battles and letting some things go with the understanding that, like us, they aren’t perfect either.
From all of us at Proactive Behavioral Services, we wish you a peaceful, enjoyable, and memorable holiday season as you head into 2024!
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