This article is from Carol Mapp, LCSW, an Arlington-based therapist with Integrated Healthworks.
For the kind folks of Whooville (for those of you who know The Grinch Who Stole Christmas), the holidays are a time of celebration and joy — while, for individuals who are recently divorced, it is a time to feel stressed and unhappy in response to the demands of finding gifts, attending events and family gatherings, and entertaining houseguests.
In preparation for the upcoming holiday season, here are some tips to make you more Whooville and less Grinch:
Simplify the season. It is what it is — namely, a relatively short portion of the year (even though decorations are in stores by Halloween). Retail merchandising and mass media expectations of how you should be feeling at this time can sometimes be overwhelming. Schedules with your children might change your holiday traditions. You decide what tradition or activity is meaningful for you and your family and carefully consider the costs and benefits before committing to additional holiday responsibilities. For instance, only put out half of your Christmas decorations up, wrap all of your gifts in one color of wrapping paper, don’t bake this year, and buy Christmas goodies from the bakery or make this the year you don’t attend the office holiday party.
Focus on one area. Find ways in which you can get the most benefit out of a minimal investment. Don’t deck the halls in every room — rather, concentrate on the room where you spend the most time. Do all of your holiday entertaining over one weekend. Have one family outing instead of many — such as attending the Nutcracker Suite, a holiday concert, or a festival of lights.
Be realistic. Reduce your expectations of self and others. If you do not get along with family members or your former spouse the rest of the year, chances are Christmas will not warm everyone’s heart — and contrary to popular opinion, gifts do not improve relationships either. Focus on loved ones and quality experiences. Model for your children the practice of random acts of kindness (which is, of course, very un-Grinchlike). Let someone get in line before you, wait while a driver turns before you, or let someone else take the prime parking space at the mall. Make holiday card sending a family affair, or send out a Christmas email instead. The most important aspect of this is to keep holiday guilt at bay by remembering that your importance to others does not rely on your ability to throw the best Christmas party, your ability to make table decorations out of all natural materials (that aren’t even available in your region), or satisfy your children’s every holiday wish.
Keep Family Traditions Organic. Remember that as families grow and change, traditions may need to change too. What works with toddlers might not work with teenagers. Be open to change. Variety and creativity can be the catalyst for exciting new traditions. If your children are traveling with the other parent create ways to stay in touch with them during the holidays. Try Face Time, Skype, or reintroducing the antiquated art of letter writing or make a date to instant message?
Plan Family Friendly Encounters. Grownups can also become whiny two-year-olds when they try to pack together an entire season of events into a couple of days. During the holidays, adults like toddlers, may experience mood swings and have a hard time expressing themselves when they are over excited or overly tired or sad because they are not with their children. Honor that “inner voice” that wants “to go home” or needs a “time out.”
Regroup. Unavoidable mishaps or misunderstanding may happen but laugh, regroup, and remember you can’t control others or events. You can bless and release the gift you had your heart set on but did not receive, the over baked pumpkin pie, and all of the Grinches out there that cross your path!
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