Tuesday, December 18, 2012


“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.”
~Melody Beattie
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


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. 

Read more!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


“Insanity means doing the 
same thing, over and over,
and expecting different results”
~ Unknown

How much is enough? How many gifts? How many guests? How many items on your to-do list? The holidays are a time of abundance, so rarely do we think of “enough” except when we wonder Do I have enough time?  or Do I have enough money? Some would say that it takes guts to manage the holidays in the best of times. Ernest Hemingway defined guts as “grace under pressure”. But surely for you, the caregiver, there is a better way. What if you were to do the holidays differently this year? 

Perhaps you’re already thinking you’ll plan sensibly to organize festivities in a simpler way, but will that be adequate? Let’s take a deeper look at how you can have more of what you most need and want from this holiday season. For starters, you can’t get what you want unless you clearly know what you want, and also know how to get it.  Instead of going down that familiar road of Christmas Past, let’s explore ways to diminish the pressure and increase the peace. You, your loved one, and your family may find yourselves all having a more joyful and meaningful holiday.

Making Magic

As a caregiver it’s normal to assume that the success of the holidays lies squarely on your shoulders. After all, you’re pretty much able to manage the rest of the year. Why not now? Because Everything is more at this time of year, on the emotional plane as well, and most especially when you are the caregiver. As the emotional weight increases, so does the yearning for life as it once was. The holidays are a time of dreaming, sprinkled with the magic of yesterday. Even if you were capable of recreating what once was, if you allow expectations to creep in, you could be setting yourself up for exhaustion and disappointment. What can you do and what may be too much? 

First let’s look at some common caregiver expectations, and then at alternatives that may give you a better holiday. Don’t give up on the magic—you can make a new kind of magic, even with the present circumstances. 

The Holiday Essentials
 “Once in a while you have to
 take a break and visit yourself. “
~ Audrey Giorgi

Each of us has aspects of the holidays that are dear to our hearts. When you think of them, you smile. Just the thought gives you energy. What are yours? When you can identify what is most important to you, you can let go of the aspects that are draining. In the reclaimed space you might even connect more with yourself, generating peace in your heart that can source the whole holiday. Consider each of the following questions, looking for the answers that are absolutely true for you. Open your mind. Step back from your assumptions, looking for choices that you may not have considered. Writing down your thoughts will let you be more objective.

Preparations: What holiday preparations are truly necessary to you and which are essential to your loved one? Which ones give you or your loved one energy? What other aspects seem in some way important but actually drain you? Which ones might you dispense with or delegate to others?  
Guests: Who clearly needs to be present to bring the holiday alive? Who is most important to you, and who is important to your loved one? Could you manage to tell “certain others” that you’re scaling down, doing a simpler holiday this year? Of those that must come, who could stay nearby at a motel instead of with you? 
Food:  Which aspects of food preparation are a true joy to you or your loved one? Would it be okay with you if family brought some or all of the meal? Or could the meal even be ordered from a nearby restaurant? “Sacriledge!” I hear you say, but think about it!
Gifts: Would the family consider giving only one small gift per person or doing a yankee swap? Could you give simpler gifts— the singing of a song, reading a poem, or giving a special photograph, beautifully framed? Could you focus more on the gift of being together and less on the giving of things?

Partnering with Others

What would be possible if you asked others to partner with you in new ways this year? Including more family in preparations can increase holiday warmth. If you have friends who feel like family, talk to them too. We can’t always choose our family, but we can choose our friends. They might be touched to be honorary family in the simplification of your holidays, even those who may not be joining you. 

Family: Individually or at a family meeting, could you invite others to be on a holiday team, each picking one thing from your to-do list that would ease your load? Could a nearby family member offer respite care to give you time off from caregiving?
Friends: If you have friends who have been saying “How can I help?” is there a small service that they could do to give you some relief or make you feel less alone? By accepting help you gift others with the opportunity to give.
Professionals: Could you hire someone to do the housecleaning? Might you find respite care through a local senior center or assisted living facility to free you up from caregiving for a couple of days?

Some family members may think they know what would be helpful but need a little re-educating. They won't know what help looks like to You unless you tell them, so clarity and honesty can also help in getting you the help that you want and need.

Paring Down Commitments
"Besides the noble act of getting things done,
 there is the noble art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
 ~ Lin Yutang

What might be possible if, just for this pre-holiday, you pare down your commitments? People will understand if you have limited energy and resources this year. Give yourself a “time-out”.

Non-family: What are your on-going commitments to friends or organizations? Which commitments to friends may not be necessary between now and the holidays? Could you let organizations know that you won’t be available for the next few weeks? From which obligations might you like to permanently DE-commit? Does your workplace give special support to family caregivers during the holidays? It doesn’t hurt to ask. 
Family: What services or favors do you regularly do for other family members (including kids) that they could do for themselves? Could others take on the tasks that keep the household running?

If possible, include your loved one in these explorations. Let him/her be a part of the thinking, planning, and doing—participation is empowering for everyone. So now that you’re a little clearer about what’s necessary for a joyful holiday, how do you communicate with the rest of the family? 

READ PART TWO to learn ways to manage the people, your family and guests, to maximize the chances of creating that greater peace.

Read more!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Set-Up for a Happy Holiday

“I don't know the key to success,
but the key to failure is
 trying to please everybody.”

~ Bill Cosby

If I were to name one key factor that will place your coming holidays on the continuum from pleasure to pain, it would be expectations. We all have them, whether they arise from memories of the last year or two, or from memories of childhood. In ordinary times most of us are unaware of how these little devils can undermine our happiness. So now, especially if you're a family caregiver, let's take a peek at how shifting your expectations may offer you more leeway this holiday, optimizing your opportunity for a joyful and peaceful holiday. 

Expectations of The Holidays
What are your expectations of this 2012 holiday season? On what past experience are they based? How could you set yourself up this time around to have a simpler, happier celebration? The holidays when you’re caregiving are different, yet many of us bend over backwards to try to make them the same as they were. At no other time are we so dedicated to pretending that nothing has changed. But take a minute to think about what is really important for this holiday time. Preserve the simpler family traditions, but consider tossing out your more extreme expectations of the holidays, family members, and yourself. Stay in the present moment. Generate new, creative, simpler family traditions. Focus on gratitude for what you have now.

Expectations of Others 
People are different too. Everyone is effected by caregiving. Those who are difficult may be more so. Those who are helpful may need some guidance in exactly what that means this time around. The demands of the holidays compound the regular stresses of caregiving to push family members to their emotional limit. If they need to act out, let them be. As hard as it may be to imagine, they may be doing the best that they can. Have compassion while asserting your own boundaries. You can’t make other people happy, or make them act the way you would want. You can only tend to your own state of mind and heart. Do what you can. Communicate clearly. Let that be enough.

 Expectations of Yourself
As your own stresses mount, consider lowering the bar on your expectations of yourself. Step back from any regular commitments that aren't essential right now. You can always get back to them in January. Make a little more time to decompress. Focus on your relationships more than the trappings of the holidays. Ask for a little more help from others. Holidays that are co-created have a more congenial feeling. If you find yourself stressing over how to ensure everyone's enjoyment remember, the happiness and holiday spirit of everyone else are not your sole responsibility. If you can, tell your family how you're feeling about the holiday planning this year, and then ask for their 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.

Next week I'll begin a 2-part article that will look more closely at how you can reinvent your holiday this year. Until then, look for ways to simplify your thinking and your plan for your family holiday.
Read more!