Cultivating an intentional holiday season

By Leah Persky, PhD & Certified Family Life Educator • Family Life Education Manager

Somehow it is that time of year again. The leaves have fallen, holiday lights are up and Thanksgiving and Chanukah are around the corner. Things feel different as we approach the end of this year. The pandemic is still with us and we have a lot of experience under our belts. Somehow there are still so many new things to navigate and decisions to make. Many parents and grandparents are taking a big sigh of relief as some of the children in their lives have gotten the first and second rounds of vaccines.

While transmission rates of COVID remain high in Minnesota and across the Midwest, life seems to have returned to normal in some areas. I keep asking myself, “Am I ready for this return to normalcy?” I don’t know if I am. Many of us continue to make hard decisions about how to balance safety with living life to the fullest. What is safe has certainly changed since the early days of the pandemic. Navigating life during the pandemic has become easier in some ways and in some ways it has become harder and more tiresome. As we approach the holiday season ahead, I think this is a wonderful time for each of us to take time to reflect on what your goals are for this time. What is your approach to the holidays this year and why? Are all of your family members on the same page? It is good to ask these question prior to everything starting, or at least as soon as you are able to.

Bringing in mindfulness to the holiday season will allow you and your family members to spend more quality time together and plan for what you need as a family and as individuals. Here are a few simple pieces of advice to guide you and your family in making the most out of the upcoming season:

• Set aside some time to talk as a family; even 15 minutes could be enough. Ask them what they want out of the holiday ahead and explore the idea of safety. What types of events and gatherings feel safe and which don’t? This will set the stage for navigating how you spend your time and will allow you to create a game plan with your inner-circle. If not everyone is on the same page, that is fine and to be expected. Think about how each person can have their needs met realistically. Also include younger children in this discussion. Set boundaries for them about what the adults think is safe and doable and go from there. Maybe kids have been wanting to go the movies or the mall? Think about how you feel about this and if it is possible for your family. This can lead to a fun brainstorming session about making the most of your time together.

Also note that if there are other family members involved in planning and caregiving, be sure to have these conversations as well and provide clear boundaries about what you think is safe for your crew.

• Empower yourself to say no. This is simple on the surface, but harder to do in practice. Some of the most challenging things about the holidays are that they are too busy and this leaves little time to actually relax and enjoy. Practice saying no to things you don’t want to do. Come up with a canned line you can use if you need to. For example, say something like, “I am so sorry I am not able to attend.” You can add in that you have a prior engagement if you do, but don’t worry about having a legitimate excuse. Saying no simply because you do not want to go and it is not a close friend/family member that needs your support is fine. Most people will understand your inability to attend an event and you will be MUCH happier in the long run. A goal of setting aside some time to slow down during the holidays will help you and your family slow down and enjoy the time together. I know I don’t want to be rushing my kids out the house every day; we all need down time.

• Time is a gift. Ask for it for yourself. Relating to the topic above about saying no, if you know that your spouse or other family member is going to give you a gift that you may or may not enjoy, ask for time instead. Say something like, “I was really wanting to go for a walk/nap/ski/shop/x by myself or with a friend – can you please hold down the fort while I do that?” Maybe this is what you ask for instead of giving a gift this year. Time away from the home is so needed for parents of young children, and really any children! Gift-giving experts also agree that experiences are more impactful and more treasured than things. We all need time away (even if we are just alone in our room or house), so don’t be afraid to ask for it.

• Keep it simple, especially now. We have spent so much time over the past almost-two years in our homes or away from extended family. There have been some benefits of this and going full speed ahead now into noisy holiday gatherings and shopping and meals out may be unsettling for some people, including children who may find the noise and people overwhelming and over-stimulating.

For most of us and for children, what we treasure most is the simple things together; the quieter times of connection and the people we are with. Think about the memories you want to make for yourself and your family this season and be intentional about making that happen. These memories will be highly treasured for many years ahead. I encourage you go ahead and embrace and create the winter you envision. It is the time together and experiences that you and your family will treasure the most.

I wish you all a safe, peaceful and intentional holiday season ahead. Reach out to me, the parent coach at JFCS if you want to discuss any challenges you are experiencing planning and setting goals for your holiday season. I am here to help you come up with a realistic plan of action that will leave you feeling less stressed and more grounded, so please reach out. I look forward to hearing from you!