Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holidays and the Fantasy of the Perfect Family

     Holidays are more complicated then they appear.  Oozing with expectations from one too many fantasy-creating Hallmark images, holidays can be a recipe for disaster.  The pressure to create a picture perfect family scenario of a thankful family carving the turkey is enormous. Those fantasies can lead to crushing perfectionism with our longing for what we wish had been.  Our longings can cause us to try too hard and overlook the family that we do have now, in real time.  Stir in a little alcohol at a family gathering and you can have a real mess.  
    How can we avoid exhaustion,spending more then we have, trying to do it all, and other symptoms of addictively seeking the perfect holiday?
1.) Staying in the here and now would probably be a good start.  Rewinding to the past or fast forwarding to the future, probably won't enhance what you have now with the possible exception of fond and idealized reminiscences.  They are probably okay.

2.) Radical acceptance of your family members is another good idea - with all their well known imperfections and character defects.  Don't be mad at them for the discrepancy between your idealized notion of who they ought to be and who they are.  Accepting them for who they are, loving them as is can be the beginning of authentic intimacy.  I believe that I discovered that truth when I was teaching Marriage and the Family at DePaul when I taught about developmental stages of marriage. It's true.  You have to mourn the idealized notion of who you wish your mother, father, son, daughter fill in the blank, oh yes, last but not least, spouse were. Then you have the glorious opportunity to love them for who they are...which might actually be cooler then who you wish they were and all the resultant resentment that goes along with that.

3.) For the final ingredient, stir in a little gratitude.  I remember once having a whopping fight with my husband over the exact perfect positioning of the Christmas tree - in front of the window or in the corner? It was a classic fight for a holiday perfectionist and guaranteed to ruin anyone's day who happened to be within earshot.  An acquaintance came by and marveled at the beauty of our tree.  Somehow she dropped the fact that they did not have or could not afford a Christmas tree. It caused an immediate shift in my perspective about the  necessity of the perfect tree.  I suggest that you ask yourself How important is it? before you relapse into a holiday snit.  And be grateful for the beauty of the half of your glass that is full.

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