Making the Most of Holiday Gatherings

I love this time of year, with fall in full swing, the weather crisp and cooler, the anticipation of the coming family gatherings and holiday cheer. But that doesn’t mean the holidays are not without stress or concern or just plain tiredness from all the activities. Here’s how to get through the holiday season without being overwhelmed.

Decide now what you’ll do—and what you won’t do. Figure out how much will be too much for you and for your family. For those with small children, you might want to schedule only a few outings or events with family and friends. For those with older children, you might ask their input for what they’d like to do.

Focus on making memories over checking boxes. In other words, don’t feel you “have” to do something just because it’s expected. Think more about what your family enjoys doing as a family—that’s what this time of year is really about—and put those things on your calendar.

Think about giving, rather than receiving. How can you incorporate giving back to the community, to your family, to your neighborhood, to your friends, to strangers this season? For example, we have the opportunity to host international college and graduate students for a Thanksgiving dinner prior to the actual holiday, which all of us (including our four children) enjoy doing each November.

Don’t be afraid to come late or leave early. When the kids were young, we often arrived at holiday parties on the early side, then left well before ending time in order to accommodate their sleeping schedules. By doing that, we were able to enjoy the party and not have too cranky kids on our hands.

Take time to slow down. If you feel yourself becoming exhausted or overwhelmed with your to-do list or activities on the calendar, see what you can eliminate. There’s no sense running yourself ragged just because the list says you have to. Take ownership of your time and put the brakes on when it gets to be too much.

How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed during the holidays?

Do As I Say…And Do

This time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush—buying presents (check!), decorating (check!), baking (check!), giving (check!), and all the other things that make up the Christmas season. But it’s at these times, when we’re busier than ever and maybe more stressed than usual, that having our actions match our words is even more vital.

Here are six ways we as parents can ensure our actions and words are sending the same message.

  1. Slow down. Yes, I know you have a million things to do, but you also know from experience that trying to do too much too quickly often results in crankiness and mistakes, which led to frustration. Remember that this time of year, errands can take longer because of more mall traffic, etc.

    Image courtesy of Ambro/
    Image courtesy of Ambro/
  2. Build in margin. Don’t wait until the last minute to do everything—plan your activities so that you have space between them for the unexpected.
  3. Give grace. Rather than immediately retaliate for wrongs or misbehavior, exercise grace and mercy. That doesn’t mean we become doormats, but it does mean we first think, “Can I overlook this?” before we act.
  4. Give the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming the worst in a given situation, assume the best intentions. For example, the saleswoman rings up your item at the wrong price. Rather than jump to the conclusion that she’s trying to cheat you, think perhaps it’s a honest mistake and patiently wait for correction.
  5. Offer smiles. This is one of the easiest things to do and one that we all too often forget. A smile goes a long way to making someone’s day—I know I feel better if someone smiles at me unexpectedly.
  6. Look for ways to make someone’s life a little easier. Carry a senior’s groceries to her car, hold open the door for those behind, say “thank you” and “please” to those you encounter, let others go ahead of you in line, be generous with your time, and think of how you can help those closest to you—your family, friends and neighbors.

However you celebrate the holidays, I pray you will make time for personal connections with your children, spouse, family and friends.

Until next time,


Family Times

This time of year, parents often find themselves having pushback from kids on attending family and other events. Kids whine that they don’t want to go. They fling phrases like: “I don’t know Aunt Mildred or Mrs. Smith, so why should I have to attend the party, dinner or outing?”

Parents, not wanting to have a miserable child on their hands, sometimes cave and allow the child to stay home (if the child is old enough to do so on his or her own, of course).

So why should you make a child attend such functions?* Here are three reasons

  1. Because family is important. Sure, your son might not know Aunt Mildred, but this provides him with an opportunity to get to know her. Knowing your family is an essential component to knowing yourself.
  2. Because it’s not about you. Thinking of others more than yourself is a way to combat the inherent selfishness we all carry around inside. Going to events that would please others more than ourselves is one way to help tamp down our selfish tendencies.
  3. Because traditions are important. Many of these functions center around traditions, and if we don’t teach them to our children, those traditions will die off. And that would be a shame.
Image courtesy of ambro/
Image courtesy of ambro/

But that doesn’t mean a child should have to suffer through such events. Here’s how to engage them.

  1. Make sure you bring something for the kids to do. When we visited my in-laws or other family members without small children, we brought portable toys, games or books for the kids to do while we talked. Even now, we still make sure they come prepared to occupy themselves.
  2. Expect them to have a certain amount of adult interaction. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to disappear for the entire evening. Have the children spend the first 15 or 20 minutes talking with the relatives or other adults before being allowed to go off on their own.
  3. If you have older relatives who might not be as comfortable around children, have your kids prepare a list of questions to ask them, such as What was Christmas like when you were a kid? What was your favorite gift? What holiday traditions do you enjoy? That will help engage both generations in a lively discussion.

How do you help your kids get something out of family functions?

Until next time,

* Of course, sometimes, the behavior of the relative or friend in question might not be suitable for a child to be around, especially in the case of past abuse. In that case, not bringing the child would be the best course of action.