In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I browsed through some pictures saved on our computer from our last holiday trip to visit family in Georgia. It didn’t take long for me to run across the most amazing picture of my little girl. There she was, entranced by the sights and sounds that only the holidays can bring with the most beautiful passionate little smile radiating across her entire face. It was a perfect picture of what I remembered to be the perfect holiday, but the irony was thick as I continued to look through the moments we captured on that day. The next frame showed my son snatching a toy from his little sister and inserting a high degree of drama to the perfect scene that almost played out. The next frame was a picture of my little girl again, but this time her mouth was wide open, her eyes were filled with tears, and she looked like she was ready to open up a can on anyone who came within striking distance. It’s funny, when I think back to that trip to Atlanta I tend to have pictures in my head of the beautiful perfect moments. I forget the messiness that can come when you put 30 family members with different personalities, ideas, and opinions together in a small space and expect everyone to get along.
The truth is, that was a great holiday trip to Atlanta, but it was not a perfect trip. The perfect picture I snapped of my little girl was just that, a picture. It wasn’t a compete reflection of the richness of our trip or our holiday. If we are ever going to have a less-stressed holiday season, we are going to need to get rid of Norman Rockwell images of the perfect moments. We have to get rid of the mental images of the way the perfect holiday looks and replace them with realistic expectations. If you want to ensure that you don’t set yourself up for disappointment and stress during the holidays, take these simple steps:
- Let your family off the hook! Don’t push too hard for your version of the holidays to happen. Loosen up and make you relationships a priority. How important is it that you carry on with your Martha Stewart plan for dinner if you make everyone miserable in the process. Put people before projects and people before perfection. Things might not go as planned, but my hunch is you will enjoy you family more than ever.
- Choose New Priorities. There is a problem with the way we do the holidays as a culture. We get so busy going and doing things that we miss the point. We get so busy buying perfect gifts that we can’t see what we already have and we get so busy planning amazing celebrations that we forget to celebrate the simple miracle of everyday life. So make the decision today to stop the madness and create some different priorities for yourself. Make this holiday season about more than pleasing everyone else with great gifts and stunning Thanksgiving turkeys. Focus on prioritizing activities and experiences that will create valuable memories for your family. Go for walks. Play board games. Talk to your kids. Prioritize rest. Be intentional.
I’ll leave you with an exercise that will highlight the degree to which you set meaningful priorities for your holiday season. Take out a piece of paper and make a list of the priorities you would like to set for you family during the holidays. How do you want to spend your time? What kinds of activities are important to engage in? Who do you want to spend your time with?
Now make another list of the activities you have historically engaged in during the holidays. What do you actually spend your time doing during the holidays? Who do you spend your time with? What parties or dinners do you typically attend?
Does your behavior reflect the priorities you truly value? My challenge to you this holiday season is to look for the disparities between what you say you would like to prioritize and how you actually spend your time.