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Archive for Monday, November 23, 2009

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Hectic holidays

Stress, schedules can quickly turn a loving family into nuts and fruitcakes

November 23, 2009

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Darren and Janet Moore, Lawrence, look over old family photos of times spent with in-laws in western Kansas. The Moores still visit family for the holidays but travel around rather than on Thanksgiving and Christmas to slow down their hectic pace.

Darren and Janet Moore, Lawrence, look over old family photos of times spent with in-laws in western Kansas. The Moores still visit family for the holidays but travel around rather than on Thanksgiving and Christmas to slow down their hectic pace.

Holiday stress can be caused by several factors. Vickie Hull, a marriage and family therapist in Lawrence, knows family expectations can be a significant contributor.

Holiday stress can be caused by several factors. Vickie Hull, a marriage and family therapist in Lawrence, knows family expectations can be a significant contributor.

On the street

What is the touchiest subject between you and your in-laws?

Politics. I’m far left, and they’re far right.

More responses

Self-care tips for the season

From sharing time equitably between all family members, to struggling with which familial customs are the “right” way to celebrate, Vickie Hull believes there is much to learn in order to experience a stress-free holiday. Her tips:

• Lower your expectations.

• Eat right and stay on your sleeping schedule.

• Learn to say no to avoid being overly committed.

• Don’t overspend.

• Communicate with your spouse or ex-spouse about the holiday schedule and find compromises.

Topeka therapist and clinical social worker Jody Koerner says the important things are to organize your time, prioritize, follow a budget and remain flexible with regard to sharing holiday time.

“There are many ways to split up your time,” she says. “The important thing is to communicate your affection for all the people you love.”

It’s a holiday story familiar to many. You rush to shop, buy groceries, cook and wrap presents. In a frenzy, you jam the gifts, suitcases, coolers, snow gear and other miscellaneous belongings into the mini-van and take off. With pedal to the metal, you speed Danica Patrick-style to Grandma’s.

You unload the van, have a good time (or not), hastily load the van again so that you can skedaddle to the next Grandma’s house, where you have another good time (or not). Afterward, exhausted, you drive home, kept awake by thoughts of how much you ate, how much money you spent and how it is that that the holiday season comes and goes so quickly.

Such was the story of Lawrence residents Darren and Janet Moore, until they decided to stop the madness and write their own happy ending.

Parents to four boys ages 18, 16, 10 and 6, the Moores found it increasingly harder each year to make the trip to western Kansas to visit Janet’s family in Hill City and Darren’s in Colby. Spending the holidays with both sides of the family meant four or five days away from home. While both enjoyed their treasured time together with extended family, it became clear that something had to give.

“We were trying to appease everyone and not focusing on what the holidays were all about, especially Christmas,” Darren says. “It was work, stress and exhaustion.”

Then, one of the boys became ill, forcing the family to stay home. Although they missed spending time with their relatives, they realized how nice it was to be relaxed, and at home, for the holidays.

Now, Thanksgiving is spent at home in Lawrence, as is Christmas, with a trip to western Kansas either shortly before or after the holidays. The decision to stay home was hard at first, especially for Janet.

“I had to come around to the idea, and it was a big deal for my mom,” she says. “But with four kids, it was just about being realistic.”

According to the American Psychological Association, the Moore family is not alone. In 2008, an APA poll revealed that as many as 30 percent of Americans rated their holiday stress level as extreme. The Mayo Clinic lists three main causes of holiday stress: relationships, finances and physical demands.

Vickie Hull, a Lawrence marriage and family therapist, adds that false expectations also ratchet up the stress level.

“People have a tendency to think that the holidays should be perfect and that everyone should get along perfectly,” she says. “Those expectations are not realistic and will set you up for disappointment, frustration and guilt when perfect isn’t achieved.”

Hull sees more cases during the holidays than at other times throughout the year, and although she cites grief as the No. 1 cause of holiday angst, she says family conflict is another factor. Coordinating holidays within blended or divorced families and getting along with in-laws can present a multitude of issues from which conflict arises.

She says children of divorced parents can become especially stressed by spending time with the extended families of each parent.

“That’s a lot of change and a number of relationships to juggle in a short period of time,” she says.

As for the Moores, fine-tuning the visitation schedule was just the beginning of improving their enjoyment of the holidays. Along with their extended family, they have also cut back on the amount of gift-giving, adopting the philosophy that their presence is their gift to each other. Now, in lieu of gifts, they join together to provide groceries and gas cards for a family less fortunate.

“I know it seems very counter-cultural,” Darren says. “But it is so much fun, and it has helped us find more joy in the holiday.”

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