The family SUV pulls into the drive way. Your Grandpa waves from the front porch. Uncle Joe is trudging toward the car to help unload the suitcases and brightly wrapped packages.
Through the living room window you see a host of other family members laughing and giggling. You can hear the sound of Christmas carols in the background. The smells of fresh-baked bread and apple cranberry pie are wafting through the front door and suddenly you’re a child again with mouth-watering memories of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes.
Or holiday traffic was horrific and you’re already two hours late. The kids are fighting in the back seat of the car. When you finally get there, the driveway is blocked and you end up parking a couple blocks away.
Inside, it seems that your Dad and sister have been celebrating all day and are now sitting in front of the TV surrounded by empty beer bottles.
Chances are, most of our holiday experiences fall somewhere in between. But many of us are longing for that Norman Rockwell Christmas painting holiday experience that typifies what most of us have come to expect as Christmas perfection. We see this concept played out across television screens and in magazine ads so often that we have come to believe that the perfect holidays do exist.
It’s apparent that no family gathering will ever live up to our ideal expectations, but there are some things we can do to make our holiday celebrations more enjoyable.
First have realistic expectations. Family problems just don’t go away because it is a holiday. Discuss your expectations with all of your family members. Develop family ground rules so that everyone is on their best behavior.
Discuss disagreements. Gunny sacking and holding grudges leads to poor family relationships. We all know when an argument is about to happen, so we aren’t fooling anybody by trying to ignore it. It is better to say something like, “I think we disagree, let’s talk about it and see what we can work out,” or “How about if we talk about this later when we’ve cooled down,” or even, “Let’s just let things be, this is not worth fighting about.” However we do it, we will be better off dealing with our differences openly and honestly.
Plan to stay for a comfortable length of time. Do not over stay your welcome. Even in the most congenial families, there is only so much time together we can tolerate. Decide exactly how much time you can handle with your family and plan your visit accordingly.
Accept differences, even when those differences lead to conflict. None of us think the same, act the same, and expect the same.
Our holiday hopes, expectations and plans will always reflect our own unique background, and will always have to be adjusted to take into account the needs and wants of our loved ones and friends.
It may seem obvious, but it’s important to be a considerate guest. Be sensitive to the rules of the homes in which we find ourselves during the holiday.
Paying attention to these guidelines is no guarantee that your holiday celebrations will be perfect, but when put into play; they should help you and your family, have pleasant time together.
Rethink and reframe your holiday expectations. Relax and enjoy the holidays.
Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist and the founder and president of the Action Parent & Teen Support Group Programs and the Action Family Counseling Centers. Quashen may be reached at (661) 297-8691.