Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holidays: Family history or family hassle?

The Iowa State University Cooperative Extension offers a few tips on family holiday gatherings for grandparents:

Grandparents play a role in determining whether holidays make family history or family hassles.
Holidays can establish traditions, strengthen family ties, and set milestones in the passage of time. But holidays also contribute to family stress. Routines change, expectations soar, and long-term problems of loneliness, family conflicts or economic stress can seem worse.

Grandparents may find themselves squarely in the middle of family hassles at holiday time.

Keeping your holiday simple doesn't mean ignoring your family's traditions. Instead, you may discover and strengthen what is most important about your family history.

As a grandparent, you might feel the pull of wanting to preserve old routines and traditions (we've always met at our house on Christmas Eve), even while realizing that new patterns would be better for you and your family (gathering the week before at your daughter's would mean less meal preparation for you and less travel with toddlers for her).

Grandparents may have changes in their economic or health status, and may need a quieter holiday celebration. Changes may conflict with family expectations of visits with every child, extensive gift giving, or elaborate celebrations.

Letting go and making changes can be difficult. To manage the hassle and strengthen family ties, consider these ideas.

Talk about feelings. Many families don't really talk about their feelings; they only suppose they know what the other party must be thinking. Have a family discussion by phone, mail or in person to decide what's important in your holiday traditions. Talk about why some traditions are especially important to each of you.

Support your children's feelings and ask for their support to say "no." Maybe you really can't cope with 16 people for five days at your house and maybe your family can't face another cross-country trip with preschoolers.

Cooperate. Consider new ways to keep the traditions that mean the most to everyone. A newly married couple may love having a chance to entertain the family at a holiday dinner. Teenagers might organize a family gift exchange drawing.

Pass on a special tradition as a gift. One father made copies of all the stories, poems and songs that were part of his family's holiday history. Now each child uses them in a new home.

Create new ways to share old traditions. Consider visits at a new time. Your family could look forward to a January visit rather than one during the most stressful holiday period. A grandchild might enjoy your pre-holiday visit to attend a special performance.

Use family history in your gift giving. Write stories about your childhood or your children's growing up years. Give a small heirloom with a written history as a gift. Choose a few old photos and accompany them with a story about the events and people shown.

Give the gift of caring; it keeps on giving year round. To have a caring family holiday, consider the changing needs of family members. Keep the best of the old while you build new family history.

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