Editor’s note: This holiday advice edition of Parent to Parent originally ran Nov. 24, 2008.
You made it through Thanksgiving intact, but are you now dreading the rest of the holiday season? Don’t. It is possible to enjoy it!
First, learn to employ the word “no,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of “The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever” (McGraw-Hill, 2005).
One of Newman’s focuses as a psychologist and author is helping families solve relationship problems. The simple word “no” eliminates the need to push yourself to the max or to spend the holidays somewhere other than where you want to be, she says. To get to “no,” follow her tips:
• Realize that you always have a choice in what you agree to.
• Let go of your need to run things to be sure they turn out the way you like them. That relieves much of the pressure you put on yourself.
• There’s nothing wrong with taking time for yourself during the holiday season.
• Don’t be wishy-washy about decisions that involve changing traditions. Stand strong.
“As the holidays approach, you have other rights you will want to exercise,” says Newman, “such as making your feelings and desires known, establishing and guarding your boundaries, and keeping your needs for rest, exercise and balanced meals in the forefront of all you do – and don’t do.”
When it comes to scheduling holiday celebrations with extended family and in-laws, the push and pull of who-goes-where-when can actually wind up pushing loved ones away. Without feeling guilty, parents need to be able to alter their plans to fit the needs of their little ones.
A parent and teacher in Rhode Island suggests a forgiving approach to the holidays: Leave your gripes at the door, wherever you land.
“Let bygones be bygones and enjoy family now,” she says. “Take lots of pictures or videos to share. Really, just enjoy each other now and don’t take life for granted. The only time we know we have to be together is this very moment, so live it well.”
However you decide to stretch your time and money, be considerate. Your extended family is entitled to know your choices as far in advance as possible. Relatives tend to be able to cope better if they know ahead of time whether you will be able to come.
Other tips for being a good houseguest:
• No matter what generation you’re in, don’t overstay your welcome.
• Don’t expect to be waited on. Pitch in.
• If young cousins will be playing together, designate shifts for checking on the kids to keep whining and mischief at bay.
• Don’t expect your children to sit around and be “guests” while the adults catch up. Get out to parks or go on hikes, and plan focused activities inside.
• Some grandparents balk at having to move things around in their homes, while others are willing to set aside a play space for the tiniest guests. Know the turf ahead of time and prepare.
• Even though you may feel much more comfortable in your own parents’ home, it’s important for your children to know both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Be as equitable as you can with your time. Don’t just give your in-laws the leftovers.
• Choose off-peak times to travel and celebrate. Encourage your family not to stake claim to the exact holiday date. Why not celebrate on the weekend after the holiday?
• Children benefit from some semblance of their usual routines over the holidays. Otherwise, running on junk food and lack of sleep, they will turn into brats – an unwelcome change, for certain.
In homes with small children, avoid sharp or breakable holiday decorations, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Also, steer clear of ornaments that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Parent to Parent at (704) 236-9510.