Making the Most of your Holidays

September 11, 2015 | By

by Dr. Bert Pitts

Some of our common holiday tips:

  1. Focus on why we celebrate the holidays. It is easy to forget, but “holidays” means “holy days.” If you and your family enjoy them, attend holiday worship and music services. Read more scripture. Pray more often. Be more kind to others. Share with and serve those in need. Spend some of your holiday time thinking and planning about how you might live a better life—more spiritual, purposeful, closer to God.
  2. Be realistic with holiday expectations. People’s behavior does not change just because it is a certain time of the year. Taking time out early in the season to reflect on realistic holiday expectations can go a long way toward making your holidays more enjoyable and meaningful. Remember, there is no perfect holiday. Make holiday opportunities for humor and fun—it doesn’t have to be all work! Holidays change through the years. Roll with the changes and start new traditions. Trust that you have the power to create a holiday of choice and one that is meaningful to you and yours.
  3. Many families continue to struggle financially, and cannot afford the level of gifts and celebration they might have enjoyed in the past. Do not deny, hide from or feel unnecessary guilt over this issue: Face it head-on. Discuss it openly with spouses, children, and as needed and relationships allow with co-parents, parents, and extended family. Perhaps discuss options such as setting limits on amount spent for gifts/number of gifts, drawing names (and only buying gifts for the people you draw),giving money to charities in peoples’ names, or perhaps foregoing gifts for an affordable family vacation.
  4. Instead of so many gifts, spend more time with your children and family, at the dinner table, by the fire, playing holiday music, telling family stories, playing board games, reading holiday stories out loud, watching great seasonal movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and others). Your children and family will remember and cherish your time, attention, conversation, and play infinitely more than the material gifts you give to them.
  5. If your holiday will be on more of a budget, as above, don’t wear a long face, apologize, or act like it will be a downer: It may be the best one you’ve ever had! (In other words, you may have so much fun that you’ll use this year as a model, even when you do have more money!) Your attitude about it will make it or break it, especially with children. Quickly squelch any of the kiddies’ negativity, complaints, or whining, and remind them how fortunate they are. Holiday time spent in one’s room or time-out chair can work wonders on “unholy” attitudes and behavior!
  6. Make a memory: Do something really meaningful with your family! Here’s an idea: On or around your holiday, take your children and parents along to serve a meal at a homeless shelter, such as (in the Birmingham area): The Firehouse Shelter for Men, First Light (women and children), Jimmie Hale (men), or Jessie’s Place (women and children). Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit like charitable giving. Creating family holiday traditions around giving to the needy will teach your children lifelong lessons about gratitude, sharing, social responsibility, and humility. Take your children shopping for toy- and gift-drives for needy kids and families organized by local TV stations, local law enforcement or firefighters, your church, temple, or house of worship. Rally your family to gather up blankets, coats, and warm clothes or shoes you don’t need, buy an extra sack of groceries, and deliver your donations as a family to local charities such as Greater Birmingham Ministries, Urban Ministries, Salvation Army, Catholic Family Services, Jewish Family Services, and/or Community Kitchens of Birmingham. The bottom line: Choose something your family can do together, and if you find it meaningful, make it one of your holiday traditions.
  7. If children are overstimulated, disappointed, or quickly bored with gifts they receive, parents should intervene! Calmly (not punitively, angrily, or with any scolding) remove some of the gifts and store them where the child cannot get to them. Later, the gifts can be reintroduced, perhaps one at a time. Or gifts that the child still does not like can be taken to one of the ministries or charities in #6—take your child along, and let them experience the joy of giving something away that another child will enjoy.
  8. Talk with your family about intentional daily periods of time where everybody gets off of their screens, including phones, i-Pads, i-Pods, computers, video games, TV. The only exception would be if everyone in the house agrees to watch a movie or TV show together. If consensus cannot be reached about what to watch, the TV stays off. If kids and/or adults in your house are heavily screen-addicted, this time will not be pleasant at first, but parents should take charge and stick with it. Family members can do whatever they want, except for turning on screens. Everybody does not have to do the same thing, retreating to one’s room should be discouraged but not struggled over. Good choices include reading, looking at a magazine, playing a card or board game, turning on music and cooperatively doing housework/yardwork (i.e., “recreational cleaning”), telling stories or jokes appropriate for everyone present, taking a nap in each others’ arms/laps or in the same room, taking a walk, baking & eating cookies, artwork, crafts, entertaining young children or babies.
  9. Pace yourself, don’t overdo it, get enough rest, easy does it with alcohol. Here’s a hint: In just a few days, the holidays will be over! It would be foolish to run yourself ragged, worry about people not being happy with their gifts or your parties, or otherwise stress yourself into getting sick, off the wagon, depressed, or into the hospital by December 26th or January 2nd! Unless you really want to attend each holiday function to which you have connections or are invited, SKIP IT…use the time to rest and recharge. Stop the madness…”Unplug the Christmas Machine.” (The latter is the title of an excellent book on holiday de-stressing.)
  10. Steer clear of chronically difficult family members. Some people dread holiday gatherings where particular family members tend to drink too much, become antagonistic or abusive, or make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.If what they say is inappropriate or hurtful, the best response is usually “no response” or walking away. Consider the source, what they say to you is about them, not you. You are in charge of your attitude and response: The family member can only control you if you let them. If you feel vulnerable, plant yourself near stronger and more pleasant family members, around which you feel safe. As a last resort, you can always leave the gathering, or if you are hosting, ask the difficult family member to leave, if they are not willing to shape up.
  11. It’s perfectly OK for you to consider December 25th “just another day,” (i.e., not a holiday this year) and know you’ll survive it. The holidays are very unhappy times for some people, or will be this year. Some don’t have family or friends with which to enjoy the time. Some are feeling crushing loneliness, sadness, and grief. If the latter applies to you, make a plan, give yourself plenty of distractions and things to do during the holidays, schedule your time, move around some (take walks or drives). Try not to be a couch potato during the entire holidays, break up TV or computer time with active time, especially outside on sunny days. Perhaps leave town and take a short vacation, if possible. If you are in crisis and have no one to call, try the Jefferson County Crisis Center at (205) 322-7777. Past or present Pitts & Associates’ clients in urgent need can call our office number, (205) 870-3520, and follow instructions to contact our answering service and have your clinician paged. If you know of someone grieving a recent loss during these holidays, there is an excellent article in this edition of ShrinkRap on how to give proper support to the bereaved: What to say and do, what to avoid saying or doing.
  12. For newly married couples, sit down before the holidays and discuss each of your families’ traditions (when the meals were served, gifts were opened, other special touches that were done). In your new family, the two of you can now pick and choose from your families’ traditions, plus add new ones of your own. Be sensitive to your partner’s feelings, regardless of how “special” a particular tradition is to you (or not). Give and take. Watch the way that your new holiday traditions make your spouse’s and children’s eyes sparkle, and likewise share your joy with them.
  13. Parents are in charge of their children. In rare cases, parents have to set limits on grandparents or others that attempt to compete with or “upstage” the parents through vast over-giving to children, give gifts of which the parents do not approve, or otherwise manipulate or undermine parents’ authority or wishes for their children. When such limits need to be set, parents should do so as tactfully and discreetly as possible—however, as firmly as needed to communicate to the other party that the parents’ “rules” for the children’s holiday must be followed, if the other party is to be included.

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