(Click here to read the first post in this little series.)

So, you go to the movies, right?

And in the middle of the feature you decide you don’t like what’s happening in the movie.

So you charge to the front of the theater and throw yourself at the screen, trying to convince the characters to just stop it already! You shout at the villains. You slap the screen…

“Aw, come on Christine, that’s a stupid example. No one would ever do that.”

Maybe not at the movies they wouldn’t.

But most of us do this in our daily lives. We try to fix all the external things. We try to fix the things we have absolutely no control over. We try to fix our outsides without first working on the source of the image – our own insides.

In other words, we are the projectors. We are the producers. We are the writers.

So, what does this have to do with families and holidays and stress?

The only place to start creating a happy holiday with your family (or with anyone) is inside of you. Families are perhaps the easiest place to catch yourself in the unproductive act of shouting at that movie screen.

Now I know this might sound like a great idea in theory. And maybe it’s easy to doubt the possibility of putting it into practice.

So here’s the thing to remember. Practice is exactly what it takes. And practice is exactly what you get when you do this stuff with your family. You’ll see small results with each thing you try.

Best of all, this work is quite simple and do-able. You don’t have to meditate or find a higher state of loving consciousness to do it. (You can get to that stuff later.)

For now, here are five practical things you can do to prepare for the family holiday events…

1. Go complaint-free

Make a Complaint-Free Pact with your partner or with one of your siblings starting today and running through January 1. (If that feels like too much, just do it til December 26th.)

This means that when your 33-year old brother calls to tell you he’s bringing his new 18-year-old girlfriend to the festivities, you don’t call anyone else in your family to talk about it. It means that when your daughter calls to tell you she’s “gone vegan,” you don’t descend upon your husband to tell him your children are idiots. You just watch your own temptation to spew venom.

Make a game out of not complaining. Decide that any time you’re tempted to go on a rant, you’ll just pause and say, “Well, isn’t that something?” (Said with a Southern accent, this technique can be pretty funny.) Get the Complaint-Free World bracelet. Wearing the bracelet alone might generate some great conversation between you and other family members.

2. Surrender your time in advance

I use this technique whenever I don’t feel like doing something, or if I find myself wishing I were somewhere else doing something else. If choosing something else isn’t an option, I stop resisting, and I surrender my time.

Just recognize that the family holiday event is going to happen, and that’s where you’re going to be. Set your intent to be present. Set your intent to really be there, and know it’s exactly where you are meant to be. If you were supposed to be somewhere else, you would’ve gone there!

3. Abandon the Holiday Shoulds

The Holiday Shoulds are insidious. Pay attention to them – they can creep up out of nowhere!

Here’s a list of Ten Holiday Shoulds you can release now. It will make you happier when the time comes to get in the car or to receive guests…

1 – I should have a new outfit to wear on Christmas Eve!

2 – I should’ve made Christmas cards to go with all of my presents!

3 – I should be better at wrapping presents!

4 – I should’ve bought more expensive presents!

5 – I should go out and buy more [insert useless consumer good here.]

6 – I should’ve lost weight this year!

7 – Christmas should look more like [insert animator or artist here — i.e, Rankin Bass, Thomas Kinkade, Jacquie Lawson] makes it look!

8 – I should be able to play Christmas songs on the piano!

9 – I should’ve made [insert time-consuming baked good featured in Martha Stewart magazine]!

10 – I should decorate my house better!

4. Decide how you want to feel

Have you already been talking about stress, family and holidays? Have you already told friends about how much you dread traveling or having guests or being with family?

Challenge yourself to tell a friend how you want to feel and be with your family at the holidays. (Rather than “how it always goes.”) How do you see yourself at dinner? Can you see yourself eating only what appeals to you -without bingeing to escape the present moment? Can you see yourself smiling?

Focus on what you want. Not on what you don’t want. Energy flows where attention goes.

5. Have a friend on call

If your family situation is really unhealthy, and you don’t feel strong enough to face it alone, ask a friend to be “on call” for encouragement and love. Get a partner. Just knowing that someone out there is loving you unconditionally can make you strong. You ultimately might not need to call. But it’s a great option to have.

Taking care of your insides involves accepting your vulnerability – rather than repressing it and wishing it weren’t there. Acceptance begins with asking for help. You don’t have to get whiney. You can just ask a friend to be your Go-To-Gal. (Or guy.)

If your partner or spouse is coming along to the event, have a conversation in advance. Let him/her know that you might need a little extra love and encouragement. Ask him/her to “Watch your Back.” Ask him/her to be the strong sensible one if you get triggered.
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Pick one (or all five) of these things, and you’ll begin to notice a shift inside of you. You’ll feel more at ease knowing that you’re putting your energy and attention on something that you can actually control as you prepare for the holidays with your family.

17 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • fivecats

    hmmm… should’ve read this one before my long comment to the first one.

    (hey, i’ve been out of the country with very limited internet access!) 🙂

  • Michelle

    I am headed to my parent’s annual holiday party today and reading this could not have come at a better time. Overall I have a great family. But man can we clash over the small things at the holidays. One example was my mom did not like the photo that my brother sent out of their new baby. “You can’t see her face…you need to be able to see her face…” my mom went on and on…This is grandama who must have 9,000 photos of her 4 months old granddaughter. I reminded her of this and she kept at it….what about everyone else that want to see her face, not her peeking out from under an oversized santa hat.”

    I know my brother and sister in law intentionally went for this shot and were thrilled to get it so I shrugged looked at my mom and said, “well I think it’s cute”. I know it will come up today.

    Deep breath. I vow for today not to complain. I vow to step back into a quieter room or a walk if the buzz starts to overwhelm and I vow to read your blog every day from now on to keep my sanity!!!!!

    Thanks for the fantastic advice.

  • Christine Kane

    hey kim, thanks!

    joy – wow. that’s a beautiful poem. i’ve never seen that one. thanks so much for sharing it.

  • Joy Gardner

    I can’t help but share a translation of a poem by the mystic Rumi, one of my favorites, that makes me smile and think of this discussion too. All I can say is, don’t risk ruining your feathers! 🙂

    We’re quite addicted to subtle discussions;
    we’re very fond of solving problems.
    So that we may tie knots and then undo them,
    we constantly make rules for posing the difficulty
    and for answering the questions it raises.
    We’re like a bird which loosens a snare
    and then ties it tighter again
    in order to perfect its skill.
    It deprives itself of open country;
    it leaves behind the meadowland,
    while its life is spent dealing with knots.
    Even then the snare is not mastered,
    but its wings are broken again and again.
    Don’t struggle with knots,
    so your wings won’t be broken.
    Don’t risk ruining your feathers
    to display your proud efforts.

  • Kim

    This year, the holiday season is going much smoother for me because I’ve given up doing so much of what I didn’t love. Thank you for giving me more food for thought. My inner self needs all the help it can get!

  • Christine Kane

    hi stacey – wow. that’s such a great thing to hear! thanks for coming to the show. i had such a fantastic trip to fl!

    thanks sue and deb!

    mark p – i don’t think it’s being depressing at all if you stop to remind yourself that everyone is here only temporarily. that really sunk in for me after my dad’s stroke. it’s a great reminder – AND of course, there are some people who can’t go there yet, especially if they’ve been in an abusive situation and are learning how to recover. still, i think you’re totally right on there.

  • Mark P

    Really nice post Christine. Great tips!

    I would add…hmmm…how do I say this without sounding like Debbie Downer? I try to remember that my family won’t be around forever. Little annoyances tend to vanish when you keep this ‘big picture’ in mind. You tend to hug a little tighter.

    Okay – someone tell a joke. 😉

  • Deb

    as always, spot on.

  • Sue

    Thanks for reminding me about surrendering time. That is a great way to be more present instead of wishing away time before it happens. I love the idea of having a friend to call as well. Its like having a ‘sponsor’ for dealing with our families! I’ve also found that if I almost drench them in kindness, suddenly, like the grinch, my heart grows 3 sizes that day and it really works. In that moment, for that particular time, I can be very present. Thanks!!!!!

  • stacey

    Hey Christine,
    After your show Saturday night, I wrote to my collegues at school and asked if they would like to participate in a “complaint free world”. So the entire Algebra I team at Boca HS is participating. I just bought 800 bracelets and hopefully we will get to start before the holiday break. I am very excited about this… I will keep you posted on our results. Thanks for being a postive force in the world!

  • Christine Kane

    linda – that reminds me of mark twain’s quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Thanks!

    thanks helen – i have lots of friends who give great homemade presents. it’s a fantastic idea. and being aware of your own limitations is an important piece here. thanks for your thoughts!

    mags – a friend of mine started doing something similar to “isn’t that something?” she started saying, “Huh.” She’d tilt her head and look mystified and just say “huh” as if she were looking at a petri dish that was showing an interesting result. It’s pretty funny.

    elaine – can’t wait to hear your british southern accent! 🙂

    anna – motion sensor lid? does that mean if you throw something in the trash that keeps moving, the lid opens and lets it out?

  • Anna

    My husband and I have gotten to the point over the years where we just step back at the family gathering (which is always at our house) and pretend it’s a Seinfeld episode! Works for us!

    This Christmas season seems to have been way less stressful for me…I took a bunch of shoulds off the list this year. No new outfits, very few Christmas cards, recycling old decorations and no fancy gifts…except for the garbage can with the motion sensor lid! It’s very cool…

  • Elaine

    Thanks for these great practical tips. I’m currently giving up external fixing and really focusing on the internal stuff and it really works! You really have a choice over how you show up and how you feel. Surrendering in advance really helps to take the pressure off me too!

    I’ve also just signed up for a further 21 days Complaint Free along with approx 20+ other people – the power of the group is great (and lots of fun!).

    Practicing my ‘southern accent’ today!

  • Mags

    Thanks, Christine – some great tips for the holidays, which I’ll definitely be putting into practice! (I’ve started to practise saying “Well, isn’t that something” in a southern accent… it’s making me giggle – I’m enjoying Christmas already!)

  • Helen

    Being optimistic (or having a short-term memory lol), I have always thought having a good time with family was possible. Then I often found that things went really badly and I came home completely drained.

    This is when I realized it was important to work on myself. First I had to admit my own “bad” feelings, which was very hard but paid off (better to pour your guts everyday in your journal than at somebody’s face after a little too much wine). Then I had to learn to set limits (better to stay 2 days and be gracious, than stay 3 days and end up in a nasty row). Recently I have been going further ; trying to please myself by making handmade presents (or at least handcrafted one). I’m not good at that, but I am learning new skills thanks to that, being faithfull to my beliefs, and it make me really happy. After that if the presents are not well received, at least I will have had pleasure out of them (instead of stress and misery in some overcrowded shopping mall) :o)

    All in all, after all this work I’ve been doing on myself, I’m much more centered or grounded, aware of my needs and limitations, and to my wonder, social and family parties have been really pleasurable recently. It seems that when you are relaxed and happy somehow it makes other people feel relaxed and happy :o)

    Thank you Christine for reminding us about that.

  • Helen

    Being optimistic (or having a short-term memory lol), I have always thought having a good time with family was possible. Then I often found that things went badly.

    This is when i realized it was important to work on myself. First I had to admit my own “bad” feelings, which was very hard. Then I had to learn to set limits (better to stay 2 days and be gracious, than stay 3 and end up in

  • Linda

    I found, through some wise advice, that everything that I was dreading, was picturing being horrible, didn’t happen. I had built it all up in my head before the actual event-a wedding with the evil ex in attendance-and none of it happened. It wasn’t the most fun thing I had ever done but it certainly wasn’t what I had imagined. I used up alot of energy before hand doing that. Trying to learn that energy goes where the attention goes.