“I don't know the key to success
but the key to failure is
trying to please everybody.”
~ Bill Cosby
In Part One we talked about how to think in new ways about the holidays so that the festivities you design really can be more peaceful. Here, in Part Two, we'll talk about ways to manage the people, your family and guests, to maximize the chances of creating that greater peace.
When a family member is ailing it effects the whole family, and functional families are rare. So, take a typical quirky family at the holidays, add a heavy dose of varied expectations (theirs and yours), toss in a collection of new time constraints, season liberally with a range of strong emotions and... can you smell the trouble brewing? (*See note at bottom about dealing with difficult families.)
How do you maximize the odds of having an intimate, even joyful holiday given all of that? Notice, I’m not talking about simply asking for help. We’re shooting for something better; an inclusive conversation that builds family intimacy while relieving you of stress. Clear communication will lessen your feeling responsible for the happiness of the whole clan. But to communicate simply you need a simpler way to think about those involved.
If you haven’t yet gotten out a piece of paper, now would be a good time. Imagine that your impending holiday looks like the cross-section of an onion, and the people who might participate in it are arranged on the layers. You and your loved one are at the center, and the others are at varying distances from the center. The one’s closest to the center are the ones you most trust, with whom you have the best communication. Now draw your onion. We’ll refer back to it.
Clearing Away Obstacles
“Few things can make us feel crazier
than expecting something from someone
who has nothing to give.”
You may think that you know perfectly well how to talk to family, but this is no ordinary conversation. It needs to fulfill on that vision of joy and peace. Most of us enter such a conversation with a set of invisible assumptions that could be stumbling blocks for our new holiday possibilities. Which of these ring true for you?:
- Everyone knows what I’m dealing with! But do they really? Others don’t necessarily think like you, even within your own family. Some have different needs for self-protection or varying abilities to listen, cope emotionally, or be forthcoming. Also, if you’re the average caregiver you may not speak to family about what it feels like to you. How much do you regularly share? How would they know what you’re facing this holiday?
- They want the same things as I do this holiday. How do you know? Would you be surprised to learn that a family member has a different slant than yours on holiday necessities? Have you asked them?
- They expect me to do it all. Well, maybe, but only if you’ve always done it all without question in the past. Whatever their past expectations, some might be very happy to rethink things this holiday.
- Surely they can participate in Some way. This is where a dose of compassion may stand you in good stead. Even though they are family, they may be dealing with things you know nothing about. Why would that be? They may not want to burden you, or they may by nature be more private. So be willing to accept No as an answer. If they can’t say No, they can’t really say Yes, so say “I love you”, let it go, and move on.
While doing this, you may think of still other expectations that you have lurking about. If so, add them to the list.
The Ingredients of Successful Communication
You might as well fall flat on your face
as lean over too far backward.
~ James Thurber
Communication experts will tell you that you can set up a conversation for the greatest success. Do you know the ingredients of a successful inclusive conversation that can foster family feeling?
Your state of heart and the words you use determine your success. How you ask will determine how you are heard. Looking at your holiday onion, you might ask yourself:
- What’s the best way to communicate with family and friends?
- Am I making demands, making a request, or extending an invitation?
- What do I say? What exact words will have them hear me and also open them up to participating with me?
- What should I ask for, and how much?
Looking at your “inner circles”, notice that these are the people with whom you feel at ease, who you trust, with whom you feel connected. Build your holiday thoughts and plans on this feel-good community. Whether they are family or friends, share with them your hopes for a happy holiday. By focusing on these people, you are already simplifying—your emotions around them are simpler, more restful. As you share with them, include them in the brainstorming about what could work.
Worry less about the people further out on your relationship onion. Drop any expectations about what they would think, or how they should participate. If you want to feel good this holiday, focus on the people with whom you feel good. Simplify your feelings, thoughts, and expectations and you have laid the groundwork for a holiday of greater joy and peace.
You are the caregiver. Your physical and emotional health aren’t just important, they’re a necessity. Your health is inextricably entwined with your peace, so you owe it to yourself and your loved one to put in place the necessary ingredients for joy and peace this holiday. This may not end up being perfect but you don’t have to do it all. You can pave the way for a simpler, more joyful and participative holiday this year.
Holidays celebrated as a family caregiver are different. People are different too. Do what you can. Let that be enough. Make a little more time to decompress. Focus on relationships more than the trappings of the holidays. Ask others for partnership to help everyone get through the holidays a little happier, a little more peaceful, a little more grateful for all that you do have. And remember...
"The past is history, the future is a mystery.
But today is a gift...that's why they call it the present.
So cherish every minute of it."
~ Elvis Stojko
*A NOTE ON DIFFICULT FAMILIES
If you have a very compassionate and giving family then you can more easily have the “How can we create this holiday together” conversation. But what if some of your family is more average, that is to say, somewhat difficult? Difficult people will likely be difficult regardless of what you say or do. As hard as it may be to imagine, they may be doing the best that they can. The stresses of the holidays push everyone to their emotional limit. Have compassion for them, while setting boundaries for you and your loved one. You can’t make other people happy or change them. You can only tend to your own state of mind and heart.