The Functionally-Challenged Family Holiday Presence Guide

Written by Christine Kane

So far, we’ve discussed how to take care of yourself during the holiday season, and how to prepare for a potentially charged holiday event involving travel, family and holiday pressure.

Now, we arrive at the scene.

It’s time to ditch the idea of Christmas presents and welcome the idea of Christmas presence.

The best gift you can give to yourself – and to everyone else – is your presence and your attention. Few people choose to do this. They prefer to allow the old unconscious behavior patterns and distractions to take over.

That’s why so many family functions can slip into old patterns. Everyone’s on auto-pilot. Here are a few ways to take that energy and convert it into different patterns by being present.

1. Avoid alcohol

If you get nervous or stressed at family functions or social situations, it can be tempting to drink a few glasses of wine and numb yourself a bit.

I encourage you to drink water instead.

Here’s why:

Alcohol distracts you and dulls you. It might seem like it “takes the edge off.” But that’s just an illusion. It can also lower your awareness level, making you more vulnerable to drama, dysfunction, and getting triggered.

2. Take walks

When you’re traveling, it’s easy to blow off exercise. Holidays and travel combined make it even easier to skip exercise.

You can take small exercise breaks by getting outdoors. Invite some family members to join you. Take some vigorous walks. It’ll do wonders for your mindset. I like to walk over to the park near my parents’ home and swing on the swings.

3. Take the conversation deeper

As you’re talking with people, be a listener and an asker. Try to do both things without judging or fixing people. Lead the conversation into places of enthusiasm and passion. Ask questions that focus on the other person’s dreams and goals…

“What’s one thing you’d love to do in 2008?”

“What’s one thing you’re proud of yourself for accomplishing this year?”

“What do you love about what you do?”

If you ask someone these kinds of questions, they’ll probably show genuine surprise and delight.

***Cool Gift Idea*** A great option is to get a fantastic little game called Gab To Go. It makes a cool stocking stuffer. It’s a question game designed to generate deeper conversations and create connection. A fun thing to do on Christmas night!

4. Look at your parents and siblings

Have you ever actually looked deeply at your family?

Now, I’m not proposing that you get all weird during Christmas dinner and ask each person to gaze at the others.

Do this for you. Just quietly look at each person during the holidays. Notice them as if you were an artist. Lovingly take them in.

It is so easy to look at family through the eyes of judgment – “Oh geez, here comes this tangent again.” Or the eyes of apathy – “Whatever.” But to really take someone in moves you into delight. It moves you out of judgment and into the present moment. See them as they are.

A few years ago, I did this with my parents during Christmas. At one point, my dad opened up a present and cheered. It was a moment of sheer bliss. He had a kid-like smile on his face. I made a mental snap shot of it. I can call it up at any moment in my day. It makes my eyes fill with tears, even now. My dad had a stroke over a year ago, and he doesn’t look the same anymore. I am so grateful that I really saw him that Christmas. It’s more powerful than any iPhoto shot.

5. Being kind vs. being right

I come from a family of academics. There have often been heated discussions, political debates, and theological rants during holiday gatherings. At one point, I just stopped. I stopped trying to prove my point. I stopped trying to be right. If someone confronted me about my froo-froo new-thought vegan beliefs, I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t try to convince anyone of anything. In other words, I stopped trying to make myself right and make someone else wrong.

Now, let’s be careful about this one. It’s easy to use it so that you can feel morally superior to everyone else. You can sit back and say to yourself, “Look at these losers. They’re all trying to out-do each other. I’m better than they are. You know why? Because I’m kind. I’m not trying to be right.”

This doesn’t help. You’ve just flung yourself into the same pool of energy when you do this.

Just decide to stop campaigning for your opinion. Listen to people around you.

6. “Love them.”

Years ago, a family member was visiting me. I got very triggered. I called a friend and told her the in’s, out’s, up’s, and down’s of the story. And then I asked her what to do.

She told me about being a step mom to her husband’s boys. She told me that she wrote these words on a post-it note and put it on her bathroom mirror: “Love them.” She said that there is no better answer.

So, I decided to do that. I let the situation go. I let go of the need to “express my truth.” And I just “loved him.”

Miracle of miracles, it worked. It was simple, but it worked.

In many situations since then, I’ve learned that “expressing my truth” is so not necessary. I can just love the other person. After all – “my truth” is just “my spin on things.” And that can get so exhausting after a while.

So, when all else fails, you can try this option. You can just keep reminding yourself to “love them.” There really is no better answer.

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And of course, there’s always the final option – which is to plop down in front of the television and watch all 24 hours of “The Christmas Story.”

And don’t forget “A Very Brady Christmas!’”

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{14 comments ... read them below or add one}

Mark P December 14, 2007 at 10:28 am

All great tips Christine!

I especially like the ‘ask them positive questions’ idea.

How about this? If it doesn’t rattle things too much, consider introducing a new tradition…

For example, my Catholic family never said grace before dinner. We just dove in and ate. But my friend’s family always prayed and I was envious at how close it made them seem as a family. One Christmas I took a swig of wine and said, “Why don’t we say grace.”

Chewing stopped and all eyes were on me. You could hear snowflakes hitting the ground outside. Then my mom said, “That’s a good idea.” You could hear a few groans from the neanderthal side of the table, but we did it. I said grace.

That was 7 years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since.

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chrissie December 14, 2007 at 12:10 pm

First, I’m laughing hysterically at Mark’s reply. I’m imagining the dead silence he must have heard. Good for him for suggesting it!

I also suppose getting older and wiser made me see that everyone has their opinions and asserting my truth about politics, the economy and whatever else in my very academic family of lawyers and doctors and/or opinionated Italians isn’t always the best use of my energy. It’s exhausting. Sometimes now I just listen…chime in when I feel like it (more because the conversation is interesting not because I have to prove myself), I don’t take offense to much of anything and I also realized how many of my aunts and uncles have really become like friends…friends with whom I can have some deeper conversations.

I second the notion of talking walks. I also suggest taking time out and doing something you enjoy. I’ve been “zoning out” by making mini wreaths and finding all sorts of fun craft projects in Country Home magazine and Martha Stewart magazine. I also picked up where my grandfather left off – collecting classic movies. I’ve been watching Miracle of 34th St., White Christmas and several others await their turn in the DVD player at home!

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stacey December 14, 2007 at 2:15 pm

Can’t get enough of the Christmas Story… I double dog dare you to watch it for 24 hours!
Thanks for the suggestions, also since my mom died, I like to remember her with a funny story about our lives together. Each person in the family tells a funny anecdote and it makes us feel like she is with us!

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Adam December 14, 2007 at 2:45 pm

Hi Christine,

I just read your Holiday Presence Guide post. I thought I should introduce you and your readers to a tool I’ve created called The Now Watch that aims to bring more presence to people’s lives. It’s a watch that tells the time like any watch but more importantly features the word NOW prominently on the face serving as a reminder that no matter what time of day it is… it is always the present moment.

Please check out http://www.thenowwatch.com if you are intrigued. Perhaps it can serve as a Christmas present that brings Christmas presence this holiday season.

Thanks for your blog… and all your work. I’ll check it out more soon. Feel free to get in touch…

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Christine Kane December 14, 2007 at 3:57 pm

hiya mark p – that’s a very funny description of the prayer moment. yea – it takes some courage to attempt a little depth in these situations – but i always find that most people will pull you off to the side and let you know that they appreciated what you did!

chrissie – thanks for your thoughts! and i love all those old movies – and rankin bass christmas stuff.

stacey – my husband and i actually cracked up at how many times we caught the same snippets of the christmas story last year.

thanks adam! great idea!

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Helen December 14, 2007 at 4:29 pm

This post – and comments – made me cry – out of joy and relief. Isn’t it great to think about all of the efforts being made all around the world, just for the sake of love ? :)

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Kay December 14, 2007 at 7:40 pm

Thanks so much Christine!!! Your last 3 posts have all been Christmas gifts!! Wanted to share a Christmas poem from a card sent years ago from a dear friend. Although it doesn’t directly address the family issues from your recent posts, it certainly seems filled with much of what you have shared with us.
The card said:

This Christmas

Seek out a forgotten friend
Share some treasure
Give a soft answer
Encourage youth
Keep a promise
Find the time
Listen
Apologize if you were wrong
Be gentle
Laugh a little
Laugh a little more
Express your gratitude
Welcome a stranger
Gladden the heart of a child
Take pleasure in the beauty
and the wonder of the earth
Speak your love
Speak it again
Speak it still once again

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David December 14, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Hi Christine – thanks for the “cool gift” mention of Gab to Go! It’s been a great week – we also got featured in the Cary News http://www.carynews.com/enterprise/story/7781.html

Thanks for the continued inspiration of your blog and music!

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Michelle December 15, 2007 at 11:00 am

Gab to Go and the Now Watch. What great ideas from your readers to compliment your post. I so will be getting a NOW watch when they come out with a woman’s smaller faced one. The irony is it can mean two things. NOW as in do it NOW or what it is intended for NOW – as in live in the NOW. The time to be alive and present is NOW.

Always thank you for being so inspiring and nice.

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Marilyn December 15, 2007 at 12:46 pm

I’m sorry, but we engage in #5, there would be no point to our family gatherings… ;) Great tips!

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Sue December 16, 2007 at 2:27 pm

Love all the tips!! Number 4 and 6 really hit me. Without having the words for those at the time, I think it is what I tried to do in some way for the last 3 years my father was alive. Despite many ‘reasons’ not to, I tried to really see him for who he was at that time and just love him and attempt to accept love from him. Once I let go of all my fear about doing so, and just tried to remain open, amazing things happened! It brought me peace and good memories and many of those frozen in time moments with him. Thanks for reminding me of that. I will try that this year as well when the whole big family is together!Thanks Christine and everyone!

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m December 17, 2007 at 7:49 am

right I@m already downcaling my xmas effort – bought cards not homemade!

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Christine Kane December 17, 2007 at 8:43 am

thanks helen! yes, the one great thing about the stressful stuff that happens is that it calls on us to be more conscious in our lives!

kay – thank you for sharing that poem. very lovely.

David – you’re welcome. it’s a great game – so i’m happy to share.

hi michelle – let us know how the NOW watch works for you! (and the game, too. i’m curious!)

marilyn – aw c’mon, you can do it!

thanks sue! i was just talking with someone about this very thing yesterday – and how you have to eventually get to a place when you realize that your parents are just people doing the best they can – and that they didn’t need to be any different.

m – it’s good to be easier on yourself. i used to make all my cards too. (and i used to not have a career as a songwriter, blogger, teacher, etc.)

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fivecats January 2, 2008 at 2:15 pm

my parents have been going out to a local chinese restaurant for the past many chirstmases. sadly, they’ve never gotten my “fa ra ra ra ra” reference. :)

after reading your Word for the Year posting, thinking about it long and hard to choose my own word and then posting about that process myself i found that i was also thinking a lot about your blog. you put such a strong sense of positive energy into it that i’m sure it must take a lot of your time and effort.

however, reading the responses you get i’m sure you get all that energy back and then some.

thanks for doing what you do.

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