If your Thanksgiving is not a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, well, welcome. You are in the right place.
For many of us, we dread the holidays. They can be tons of fun and they can be tough. Holidays have a way of reminding us that things are not what we want them to be.
Relationships are strained. Our Mother-in law irritates us. Uncle Al, scares the kids, and to be honest, well, he is creepy.
If you have young kids, they tend to be unedited and honest about these things.
” Aunt Eleanor’s food always tastes bad. And her eye looks funny.”
We want to hush them up, especially if they are really little and say what they are thinking out loud.
Have you ever experienced the discomfort of a relative wanting to hug and kiss your child? They come in with arms wide open and bend down, only to have your three-year old run away and say,
“No, no, I don’t want you to hug me!” And then they add why, or they make a bad face and push them away. Embarrassing!
As adults we can feel the same way, only we don’t say it out loud. Let’s just admit it so we stop making our kids bad for telling the truth.
We want to be grateful. We really do! I mean, we all know that being grateful is highly rated.
We have the evidence. The studies have been done. It even changes our brains for crying out loud!
Most of us listen to Oprah. Some of us even have gratitude journals.
For those of us who are God fearing, …isn’t it a sin to not be thankful? Even ungrateful?
If you are reading this and your family is awesome, I am a little jealous, well maybe a lot jealous, and that is a good thing. You are blessed. And so are those of us who are in the other camp, the camp of “making it through”. Or do we? Do we really just have to “survive” it? Isn’t there a better way?
We are responsible for our lives. We have no one else to blame if we are unhappy during the holidays, not our Mother-in-law, not Uncle George, or the mean cousin. We create our own happiness and our own experiences.
Some of us just need to work a little harder about how we navigate through the holidays. And the choice is ours. Will we be miserable or will we choose to create the Thanksgiving we want?(no guilt intended.)
I want to share with you strategies that I have learned to use in my life while navigating through the holidays. I was tempted to call them survival strategies but that is a defensive statement. Let’s instead live on the offense. Instead of reacting, let’s have intention to create what we want.
These are life-giving practices we can all learn to cultivate in order to have greater satisfaction, joy and peace not only during the holidays but on a daily basis.
1. Be proactive. Take the time to be intentional to think and plan ahead of time.
What do you want your Thanksgiving to look like? ( no matter what the circumstances may be at the present moment).
Write it out. Be specific. If this is tough, sometimes it is easier when we think about what we don’t want.
Are you tired of “doing it all?” Ask for help. Have others bring something. Buy some food dishes already made. Do you want help setting the table? Do you like to have someone in the kitchen with you to keep you company? Play some music. Music has a powerful way of changing our environment and creating fun and joy. Take time to ponder those things that bring you joy. One of the activities that brings my husband and I joy is to take a walk in the morning together and to play a game as a family. Whatever it is, be intentional and set yourself up for success.
If you are going to someone else’s house, what are some situations that might arise that can trip you up? Do you have an irritating relative that really gets on your nerves? How can you take care of yourself?
2. If you are married, have a conversation with your husband. How can you support one another? If you’re not married think of someone else that is supportive. One year, my husband and I had family over for the holidays and we switched roles. Historically, he was the one who was in the corner grumpy.(I hate that) I was the one who would plaster a smile on and try to make up for his grumpiness. (Also known as “over-functioning”. It is exhausting and a great set-up for being resentful!)
Which leads me to my next life changing practice…
3. Change it up. Do something different. As we reflected on the usual roles we play in our families, we decided to do it differently. We talked about how I wouldn’t over-function and be “phony” as my husband called it, and he would stop being a “jerk” as I called it. (And by the way, we have not over-come this, we have to regroup at every family event.) We decided to make a game of it. He focused on being more cheerful and I fought the urge to over-function. Strategize on those things that are not working in your family. If your husband isn’t open, look at what you can do to more effectively engage with others.
4. Have compassion. Understand where others are coming from.
I don’t mean to tolerate unacceptable behavior. I am talking about looking at other’s behavior through a different lens. Why does Aunt “So and So” go on and on talking about meaningless things? Could it be she is hungry for attention or affirmation? Why is a family member grumpy in the corner? Maybe this is how they learned to protect themselves in the family. I am not wanting to make excuses here, but realize that most of the time it doesn’t have to do with you. Don’t take it personally. If you find yourself taking it personally, think about what you want or need to do about it and then work on letting it go.
5. When you find yourself criticizing others, ask yourself, “Where is the log in my eye?”
Take full responsibility for how you play a role in whatever dynamics there are in your relationships. You are not a victim. Think about this one. What could you do different in the way you respond to others?
Live a life free of blame. How would you respond if you could not blame the other person. Believe me, this is hard to do.
6. Allow other people to have their reactions. They are only reactions.
Just like we desire to have our own opinions and reactions, allow others the same respect. Does your Mom think your kids are out of control or makes comments under her breath? What is true about it? Fight the urge to be defensive. Stand back objectively. “Hmm…maybe she is right. The kids are a little wild. They are excited, and I don’t agree with my mom on how to discipline. That is okay. She can have her opinion and I can have mine.” Once I started seeing the truth in what my mom said, and quit defending (well, half of the time), it lessened the tension.
It went something like this, “The kids don’t help you around here. You are doing everything.” Me – “You know what Mom? You are right. I don’t ask them to do enough. I need to work on that.” BAM!
7. Have a sense of humor. Lighten up and hold things loosely.
Humor keeps us from feeling like something is happening to us (victimhood). Humor helps us to accept what is. Humor lightens the load and the desire to control those things we can’t.
8. Accept the present reality.
This is probably the hardest for me and the most painful. Acceptance requires I sit in the discomfort of “what is”.
Hurt. Anger. Disappointment. Loss. Sorrow. Grief.
But, this is the place where we can learn and grow by practicing gratitude. (This calls for another blog entry). Without struggles, conflict, pain or plain irritation, we wouldn’t need to grow.
Thanksgiving and practicing gratitude requires we look outside of our circumstances, and look to how we can be transformed from them.
All of us are in the process of becoming…through our circumstances, whatever they may be…
Who will we choose to become?
Grace and peace,