December 16, 2015

Christmas Cheer

Christmas is the most important time of the year for my family. Surprised? As a Jew, I am hardly erecting Christmas trees or holding my breath till Santa comes down the chimney, but Christmas is a holy time for our family. I do mean holy. A family, like any other organism, subsists on nourishment. Time together. Quality time together. The hurly burly of racing through everyday life from wakeup till bedtime, with work and food production and squabbles and homework and programs and carpool and playdates – that is not necessarily quality time. Which is why our family has an official agreement to spend Christmas vacation together every year. As kids get older, this can grow from a habit into a requirement.
Is it all right for parents to have requirements like that for adolescent children? Why not? As long as you’re under my roof and I feed and clothe you, I can have requirements of you. Don’t like it? Move out. A sensible requirement, if you want the relationships to thrive, is quality family time.
Quality time is what happens when we have fun together as a family, and its rewards build exponentially – meaning that the family relationship gains from seven consecutive days of family time are far greater than from seven separate days. Each day’s loving builds on the emotional gains of the previous day. Emotional gains are the uptick in warm fuzzier that happens when a family spends undistracted time together. Undistracted means minus electronic devices and other people. Playing together as a family without distractions may feel difficult at first. Some of us have forgotten how to do that. Some families struggle to find stuff to do that everybody likes. But that’s just the how-to, and you can do that. It will take some work. At the end of the day, is anything more worth putting in work on?
It’s worth the trouble – and the struggle – because putting in that kind of time grows the positive relationships so powerfully. So let’s take it up a notch. Add a family toast to your Christmas holiday relationship-building ritual.
Here’s how a family toast works: Tell everyone in advance that you’ll be toasting each other at a formal dinner over the holidays. Give them a week or two’s notice because nobody likes to be highjacked with that kind of pressure to perform. Can little kids do this? Absolutely! As soon as a child can talk, they are capable of saying nice things about other people, and it’s never too young to start learning and practicing that skill. It will stand them in good stead at keeping their relationships healthy!
So tell everyone in the family that over Christmas vacation you’re going to have one special dinner where everyone is going to give two kinds of toasts: One is a toast to each individual in the family. The second is a toast that celebrates good memories they have of family time. Why these two toasts? The first, because when we validate someone, they feel great about themselves and about us. It’s a relationship-builder! And the second, because it’s easy to forget how precious our family is to us, and remembering the good times aloud helps build positive feelings about the family. Which increases motivation to do more stuff together. Which creates a positive feedback loop.
When you introduce the toast, there’s a good chance (maybe 50/50) that you’ll hear: “Do I have to?” The answer is yes. I wouldn’t advise spending more than two minutes on your answer. Tell them why you’re doing it (see above, say it in child-speak), and then they’ll say “That’s so dumb… It’s completely cheesy.” Agree with them that it’s cheesy. (Don’t tell them, but cheesy is good. Cheesy is saying your happy feelings. Cheesy is speaking your caring. They’ll like it when it happens – especially when they hear the good stuff about themselves. Everyone likes that.).
When they keep going with their objections, walk out of the room. This is not gong to be a fruitful discussion. It’s a waste of time and you’ll either get mad or give in, neither of which is a positive outcome. Either would reduce your street cred as a parent, and you need all the street cred you can get with your kids. So walk out of the room, saying, as you go: “Yah, you hate this idea, and we’re doing it. So be ready.”
A few days before the dinner, remind everyone briefly, and ignore their objections.
And the day of, get out your handkerchief. You’ll need it. Happy holidays.

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