Kids aren’t always the easiest people to get along with. Especially your own children. I remember when I was pregnant for the first time – and even during the second pregnancy, when I should have known better! – I romanticized what it would be like to have a baby in the house.
In my dreams the baby always slept through the night, never cried incessantly, only cooed and gurgled sweetly. My baby was cherub cheeked, and as a cute as cute could be.
But, like all good dreams, the bubble burst – first when I learned that I was pregnant with TWO children, next when I was on bedrest for 13 weeks and finally when the little ones were born and cried almost every night, all night.
Almost every fall I do the same thing with the upcoming holidays. I romanticize how Thanksgiving will be a great day, filled with laughter and easy times. Christmas will find us all gathered around the tree, opening our little packages and enjoying each other’s company.
And, like all good dreams I leave out the parts where the children are bickering as if it’s just another normal day, how the dishes are piling up in the sink or how I cook for 6 hours so we can plough through the meal in 30 minutes or less.
It Had to Change
When it was the first holiday without my ex, things changed – just slightly, but still a change. It was then that I determined that although the holidays may not meet my ‘dream’ standard, they could still be better than what we’d had in the past.
Like all improvements in life, things usually move at iceberg pace. So slowly you don’t even notice movement. But over time, over months or years, you notice the differences and it is encouraging.
I didn’t have 30 Thanksgiving’s and Christmas’s to watch for changes in our celebrations, so it was time to take out the big guns.
In the past the big guns meant talks, threats, family discussions, family meetings, identifying problems and suggesting solutions . . .
But, this time the big guns meant that I would have to do the changing. Like in any relationship, you can’t change the other person, you can only change yourself and hope that by becoming a better individual, you’ll spark changes in others. Even if your behavior doesn’t initiate a change in your children’s, it certainly makes living the day much, much easier.
I started by moving the preparation from the day of Thanksgiving or Christmas to the day before. We used foods that could be prepared the day before and popped in the oven or on the stove the day of. If having fun with the children and making memories was the goal, I didn’t want the memories to be of mom snapping at her children while organizing dinner over a hot stove or doing dishes for hours after the meal.
Next, it was time to address the activities for the day. Thanksgiving isn’t a Disney tale, filled with romanticized notions of John Smith and Pocahontas, nor should it be a re-creation of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke, with Mary enjoying the company of Jesus, while Martha ignored the relationship in favor of duty to care for her guests.
The Grass and All That
If the food could be organized more easily, how could we make memories that didn’t involve arguments, irritable behavior and poorly disguised harping about a family member’s shortcomings?
Although not old, I have had my share of friends who have succumbed to cancer, accidents and illnesses, leaving a huge hole in my life that begs the question . . . “Why don’t we appreciate the people in our lives today, instead of criticizing and wishing for something else? What about our nature makes the other side of the fence always look so much better?”
The answer to the ‘grass being greener on the other side of the fence’ was illustrated several years ago by an acquaintance. After church she and I had gone for coffee. She’d mentioned that her marriage had been rocky for quite some time.
I was shocked, because from the outside they looked like the happiest and content of all couples, always holding hands and touching, laughing at each other’s jokes and catching glances from across the room.
Turns out it was all an act . . . all because they believed that this is what was expected of them.
So, the grass that looks greener isn’t greener at all – it just uses different excrement for fertilizer. Each life has challenges and issues that aren’t always apparent on the surface. What’s below the surface, looks just like your life.
What Else Could Be Done?
To change the challenges we had been experiencing on special days I changed how I approached the day, both physically (making the dinner differently) and mentally.
We started reconnecting, not just on special holidays, but on Sunday lunches when we could gather around the table, over Skype calls with family members or in emails to my daughter and her new husband who live hours and hours away.
- Before a special day we brainstorm something fun we can all do together. Most years this involves sitting around the television and watching a movie after the big meal, all cuddled together under a blanket. As the years have passed it’s gotten more difficult to cuddle with two big boys, but we still manage it. Your idea of fun might be an afternoon of touch football, a game of Scrabble, playing poker or inviting the neighbors over for an afternoon of Wii tennis.
- During our Thanksgiving meal we give thanks. Remember that we are thankful and what we’re thankful for helps each of us to focus on the potential that lies in the future, rather than in the problems of the past. Normally we go around the table two or three times, each of us listing off the things that we are grateful for. What each of us is grateful for often reminds the rest of us that we are grateful for the same things too.
- Giving thanks for others. Another game we’ll play while eating more appetizers than anyone ever should, is ‘Guess Who Said.’ You wouldn’t have heard of this game since it’s one we made up. Each person is given the same number of pieces of paper as there are people around the table. On each piece they write down one thing that they appreciate about each person. Those pieces of paper are placed into cups belonging to that person. Then, one by one we each read what’s on the paper and try to guess who said it.
- Reminiscing. This is especially fun to do when you have a lot of people around the table. Reminiscing about past holidays, relatives who have since passed and laughing about old jokes is a fun way to bond. I remember growing up, my mom always told a silly story about going to the opera with her friend. None of us thought the story was funny, she was always laughing about it and to this day my sister and I still laugh about our mother and her joke.
- Charades and other games. Want to get people to open up and have fun? A good game of Pictionary or charades will do the trick. It’s hard to bicker when you’re making faces, acting out movie titles or otherwise acting silly. A fun game of charades will even pull in sullen teenagers who didn’t want to be sitting around the table with their family in the first place.
If you’re looking for other games, coloring pages or fun activities you can do with your children, nieces, nephews or other family members check out Activity Village.