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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday relatives are coming back!

We are getting closer to that wonderful, dreadful, time of year called the Holiday Season. This time of year typically is thought of as beginning at Thanksgiving and ending with the beginning of the New Year. Some believe this month long trial by fire is rigged by Santa to lessen the number of good boys and girls he has to visit every year. Ok, I admit it, it’s only me that believes it; however, I hope you will agree it is a conspiracy theory that has as much merit as any other.
Last year I published a guide to not only survive the holiday season, but actually enjoy the time with family, and come to the New Year admitting those crazy people really are related to you and not just some unfortunate clerical error at the hospital. I am going to print a reminder of the guide and add a couple of points to build upon the wonderful progress we all made last year.
The first thing to keep in mind is to set reasonable expectations for the holiday gatherings. If your family resembles a 3D version of Bart and Homer Simpson during the year, it is highly unlikely you will function like the Huxtables, or George Bailey’s wonderful holiday family. Stress and proximity tend to cause old wounds to open, not help them heal; but, if you can manage your expectations then at least you may experience less stress. While it may be a tempting thought, more eggnog is not usually the healthiest answer to holiday family challenges.
If you have children coming home from college, remember to negotiate expectations in advance such as: plans over the holidays, bringing home boy/girlfriends, visiting friends, household rules such as curfew, also try to discuss grades beforehand so there are no ugly holiday surprises.
Celebrate in a location that makes life as easy as possible for the majority of members. If someone finds it difficult to travel because of pregnancy, infirmity or illness, try to bring the gathering to him or her. Just because the gathering is in one member’s home, doesn’t mean they have to do the majority (or any) of the cooking.
While on the subject of cooking, if you have special dietary needs or wants, don’t expect the hosts to provide for your situation. If you are diabetic or vegetarian, bring your favorite dish with a little extra so others may try it as well.
If you are the host, invite a stranger to the gathering. By inviting a friend to the occasion who has nowhere else to go, you prevent them from spending the holiday alone and can add a complementary personality flavor to the kitchen flavors, while sometimes bringing family members together as they make the guest feel welcome.
Learn to ask for, and accept, help! If you are kept prisoner in the kitchen, then not only are you run ragged and can’t spend time with family; they do not get to spend time with you either. Everyone from children, to adults not cooking, can do chores like set and clear the table or do dishes.
Last, try to think of “the other” first when making decisions or before getting angry when your expectations aren’t met. Whether “the other” is your parent, your child, your spouse, sibling or an ex-spouse, try to put their needs first without resentment, but with patience and a sense of love. You may find the feelings reciprocated, but even if you don’t, you will have found the true meaning of the holiday season.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

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