Prepare for a Merry Christmas

15 Dec

Ten days til Christmas. Are you ready? If you’re like me, you probably still have cookies to bake, presents to wrap (or buy), a menu to plan, a house to clean (or suitcases to pack)… and on and on. The parents I talk to these days are buried under their fa la la la lists. At the risk of adding one more thing to your list I am going to, well, suggest you add one more thing to your list. Don’t worry, this thing is free, and it just might be the most valuable thing you do to ensure a merry Christmas.

Often, after all the material and even spiritual preparations we do during Advent to make the season bright, we still end up having arguments, blow ups or melt downs when the big day comes. Since they tend to happen every year, we may be tempted to just accept them as “just how things are”, or we may become discouraged and upset by them every time, as if we didn’t see them coming. Instead of either of these responses, I’d like to suggest a third: foresight.

Think about the typical trouble spots from the past few holidays. Maybe it was a conflict with your spouse, in laws or kids. Then, think through what may have been the root causes. Next, sit down with your spouse and discuss it. Finally, see if you can come to agreement on what steps might help to avoid that conflict in the future.

For example, maybe you always end up in a conflict in the car on the way to church. What causes that for you? Maybe the conflict stems from you being rushed and your spouse feeling anxious about being late for Mass. You could sit down with your spouse and say, “Honey, you know how the last few holidays we ended up fighting in the car on the way to church? I know this isn’t what either of us wants for Christmas this year. I am wondering if we can plan better so that that doesn’t happen this year.” Start by trying to find out what is important to the other person in this scenario. For instance, what is it that you like about getting to Mass early? How early would you like to be there? Then, you can express your own feelings. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed with the task of getting everyone ready or you are rushed because of other things going on at that time. This is important because many times we make assumptions about another’s motives that aren’t true and just feed our anger and frustration.

Finally, based on what ‘s important to you both, try to think of some solutions. Maybe a better Mass time would make for more time to get ready, or maybe your spouse can help you get the kids ready through some concrete steps. Maybe you can lay clothes out ahead or move a meal or just make sure you know where the keys are ahead of time! Whatever the solutions are, make them realistic and then stick to them.
What about kids? A lot of navigating Christmas with little ones is just thinking ahead as well. For instance, maybe you need to be sure your kid gets a very high protein meal before leaving to Grandma’s House of Treats. Or perhaps you need to adjust plans to ensure that nap time happens. Another thing you can do with kids is to help them think through the situation before it happens, highlighting what the expected behaviors are, or even just what to expect . For instance, you can say, “Mary, we are going to your Uncle Bob’s house after Mass and he will probably have a gift for you. What should you do after you open it? What should you do or say if you really don’t like it or if you have one just like it at home already?” Then, you briefly walk them through what’s expected. This can also be helpful if your shy child is going to be in a big crowd, or if your kids will be in a place with different rules or with people they don’t know well.

Finally, what about those beloved folks who we simply can’t reason with? Those whose behaviors are manipulative, dysfunctional or just plain mean? In these cases, we need to play out the situation with our spouse and think through what our own reaction might be in order to avoid conflict. This doesn’t mean we need to comply with unreasonable behaviors or requests, but rather think through what will likely come up and plan a strategy accordingly. For example, maybe when Aunt Ida begins offering insulting parenting advice we decide we will simply say, “thank you for that idea”, instead of getting drawn into a verbal battle about current psychological research on child rearing. In some instances, it may be that you just have to limit or stop visits with certain people, such as a family member who uses foul language or abuses alcohol or drugs. Any time you change your reaction to dysfunctional loved ones, they will not be pleased. However, you will go a long way in preserving the joy of your own family’s holiday.

As I read through this post, I am taking notes for myself! Hopefully, by thinking through what may go wrong, we can avoid these pitfalls and have a Christmas full of peace on earth and good will to all. If our efforts fail, we can remember the real reason that that little baby ended up in the manger in the first place and call on his help to set things right.

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