For all the joy that Christmas brings, family visits can still be stressful.
As much as we hate to admit it, most of our families more closely resemble "The Simpsons" than a Norman Rockwell painting."Staying too long, lack of appreciation, invasion of privacy, lack of parental control of children and undue sharing of family problems are among the common complaints of the season," says Glen Jenson, family and human development specialist in the Utah State University College of Family Life.
Adult children going home for the holidays would be well advised to review this list and consider ways to address these problem areas. Jenson suggests some pre-visit planning to make the most of the season:
- Hold a family discussion prior to making the visit about the expectations various family members have about the upcoming visit. Expecting peace and quiet with lots of family members with small children is likely unrealistic. Heavy discussion about politics or religion seldom enhances family harmony. Plan your visits to cover an optimal amount of time, not the maximum allowable days. Christmas visits have more family bonding power if departure comes when everyone wishes they could stay longer.
- Accept the fact that there will be differences of opinions. Relationships are much more important than proving your point or trying to persuade others of the error in their ways and thinking.
- Be slow to give advice to another adult. Adult children generally don't gracefully accept the wisdom and knowledge of the previous generation on child rearing.
Grandparent-aged people are well advised to treat their married children as peers and adult friends, not as children. Likewise, married children should be slow in suggesting ways their parents might do things differently.
- Grandparents are often not accustomed to the noise level that goes with younger children. Parents would be well advised to take along planned activities for younger children. Short walks or rides in the car away from grandparents are good ideas.
- Married children should contribute where possible and appropriate to help cover expenses such as food and entertainment that occur during the Christmas visit. Many grandparent-age people are living on fixed incomes, and Christmas with large numbers can become very expensive.
- If you are the in-law part of the family, give special attention to being very accepting and complimentary of your in-laws. Son- or daughter-in-law relationships sometimes become strained and have the potential for considerable stress. Give attention to appropriate titles when addressing your in-laws. Calling them titles such as "Mother," "Father" or "Mom" and "Dad" generally helps strengthen in-law relationships.
- Make it a point to share complimentary comments directed at individual people, and make certain that everyone receives an abundance of affirming compliments.
- Plan some special way for grandparents to be recognized and appreciated by married children and grandchildren. It might be such things as each child verbally or in writing sharing one or two things that they remember about that grandparent that has been meaningful in their life so far. Recall an event where grandchildren had fun with grandfather or grandmother.
Grandparents enjoy pictures, art work, letters, or handmade memorabilia that grandchildren can leave with them.
- After the visit is over it would be appropriate for married children and grandchildren to write a short note of appreciation to the grandparents, telling how pleasant it was to spend whatever time was spent together.
- Come, and try to leave, with your sense of humor in tact.