By Susan Parmelee
Now that my children are grown and have moved out of the house, I have time, a commodity that seemed much more precious when we were raising them to leave us and find their place in the world. As Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are often about gratefulness, I recently used some of my free time to reflect on how slowing down during holiday breaks helps to reinforce our family traditions and gives us the gift of time spent together.
Traditions help to keep us grounded and connected to our family. They allow us to refocus on what we truly value in our lives. When our children were young we moved every two years or so. One of these moves occurred during the holidays and we spent Christmas in a hotel room. Most of our “stuff” was on a moving van, including our Christmas decorations. My husband and I decided a fondue Christmas Eve would be an easy solution for a holiday dinner. The next year when we were happily settled into a new home, the kids reminded me that we had to have fondue for Christmas Eve dinner. This is a tradition our sons are now happy to share with their wife and girlfriend, respectively.
These yearly constants are comforting to all family members. No matter how stressful or busy kids’ and adults’ lives become, we have family gatherings to look forward to as a time to recharge and reconnect. We keep these moments sacred, but it does take some work to maintain and sometimes adjust and add to these traditions. The most important thing I’ve learned about our traditional events is to let go of perfectionism and allow others to participate. I regret the years I tried to make my table the Martha Stewart showcase—I only ended up grumpy and resentful. Allowing all the children to participate in a centerpiece competition and then declare a winner was much more enjoyable, even if everything did not match.
Holidays are also a time to reflect and feel grateful. Children may need to be prompted to practice moments of gratitude and it is important to reinforce moments of gratitude throughout the year. Our commercial culture often encourages wanting more, newer, better things, leading our youth to covet their stuff more than intangibles like family time, friendships and giving to others. Holiday traditions—serving others, financial donations, gift donations, thanking teachers—reinforce the gratitude that we hope our children practice throughout their daily lives.
In hindsight, it might have been even better if, as a family, we had slowed down a little more in our day to day life. But then I hear from my adult kids who seem to be filling their lives with cultural, sporting and community service events and see that some amount of “busy-ness” is inherent in our family temperament. This is mostly positive, as long as we occasionally take the time to slow down, maintain our family traditions and be grateful.
Susan Parmelee is a social worker who works during the week at San Clemente High School in the Wellness & Prevention Center and at Western Youth Services. To subscribe to Wellness and Prevention Center weekly emails, send an email with the word “subscribe” in the subject line to email@example.com.