Aging can be daunting, and difficult. It can also bring a new way of reflection as well.
After writing “Is the Magic of the Holiday Season Missing for You Too?” the problem-solving, practical side of me would like to offer you these tips for creating holiday magic in your home:
Play a board game, card game or puzzle. Struggling to find time to all head out on an outing? Stay in. Bring out Monopoly, Clue, Uno, whatever but put away the phones, tablets and watches and turn off the TV. If you so oblige, play holiday music in the background and have hot chocolate. If that’s too much extra, then just opt for the game. You’d be surprised at the fun you can have just with time at home together.
Instead of cookies, how about hot chocolate? Don’t want the mess or don’t have the time? Allergic to cookie ingredients? How about a hot chocolate bar instead and make an assembly line of goodies down the row. Turn your kitchen table into a barista and don’t forget the sprinkles, chocolate syrup and whipped cream! You can keep it super simple or get really creative with the ingredients and toppings.
Take a walk in your neighborhood at night. Whether or not Christmas lights are on your to-do list, seeing them fulfills the beauty without the work of stringing them yourself. If your neighborhood gets into the outdoor decor, take a walk with your family on a mild, or snowy, evening together. Long or short, hot cocoa or water, bring the dog or don’t. The goal is to get you all out together for a simple stroll to see a world of color that you can’t see every day of the year.
Set up the tripod. Whether you send Christmas cards, New Year’s cards or none, capturing family moments can make memories last. But if you have more than two people involved, matching clothes, making poses and trying too hard for photos can turn togetherness into torture. Instead of a planned photo shoot, just set up your camera on a timer and tripod and snap pictures of you and your family just doing what you do. These Christmas card outtakes are likely to have way better - and funnier - stories to go along with them.
Make any mealtime together-time. Busy schedules, packed calendars and kids running in all different directions might make it difficult to be together let alone find time for cookie-making and holiday baking. Take a look at your weeks during the month and see if you can come up with meal times where you’ll all be together in the same place. It doesn’t have to be a hefty Sunday dinner or even busy mid-week meal, but make the time you have together count by being intentional and remembering that you don’t get this time often. There doesn’t have to be a reason to celebrate to want to have a meal with your family. Choose a time that works and build around that.
Learn the words to a holiday song and maybe even the story behind it. With so much time spent in the car running errands, driving to sports and after school activities or headed to see family or friends around this time of year, why not make it a challenge to learn the words to your favorite holiday song together and/or how it came to be.
Listen to a holiday audiobook in the car on your travels. How about an audiobook for your travels if the song doesn’t pan out? An old-fashioned holiday story, a new spin on an old favorite, or nothing related to the holidays whatsoever. An audiobook or podcast can be a great thing to bring a family together on the same thing.
Watch a favorite movie together. Take the time and take turns wrapping up the evening or weekend with a movie for everyone. With three weekends to go, there’s still plenty of time for Netflix.
Create a family favorite playlist. Invite your family members to add to the playlist you create so you all feel part of it! Music is connection and can add so much fun to any time.
Make a family photo album or photo collage together with everyone’s favorite phone pictures. Even the little ones can carry a phone around and snap photos! Use the outtakes to celebrate them and where they’re at in their age.
Pull together a must-do list from everyone. Everyone has their favorites when it comes to holiday traditions. Grab a pen and paper and start asking your family what their favorite holiday event or activity is or one they’d hate to miss this year.
Attend a church or temple and take part in the celebration. Togetherness is spiritual. Faith can bring deep connection with those you love and connect you to a higher power and greater good. There is something incredibly magical about celebrating this time of year and the meaning behind it all in a church or temple. Many holy places have plays and activities that are open to all. Practicing spirituality is beyond a great way to add meaning to your holidays and deepen your sense of community.
Connect Over the Year. This is a great dinner or desert conversation that can be simple or more elaborate depending on the ages and interests of your children and family. Together talk about family changes, accomplishments, or even unfulfilled wishes for the past year and maybe something you’re hoping for next. Use the time to listen for what might have been missing or what you’ve done really well together. Make plans and write them down but just use pen and paper to keep the tech distractions away. Games like Table Topics are also awesome conversation starters if you’re having a hard time getting started.
Check out a local town’s holiday festivities. Most towns this time of year have a winter or holiday celebration of sorts. Plan an evening to explore the holiday and winter decor somewhere else that isn’t too far away. Or, if you have the time and the want, head into your nearest big city. Make reservations for a new restaurant, coffee shop or see the local Christmas tree. Look at park district guides, newspapers or other local publications for the event dates and times.
See a holiday play, movie or head to a holiday concert. Live entertainment is always a great reason to get out and a movie in theatres can be the next best thing! With so many fun entertainment options this time of year, it can be hard to choose.
Remember, no matter what you decide to do with your family or friends, it’s about the togetherness and connection that comes from being together, playing and getting out of the everyday roles and responsibilities we all have for just a little bit. Time together making memories is best done when it’s without distractions, as much as possible. So be intentional; be in the moment and the minutes with your family by putting down the devices, take photos to remember for yourself and the people you love, not necessarily for the world to see. And try to remember that the best parts of our lives aren’t the ones we screen for and edit for social media. They’re the ones happening the rest of the time.
We all have bad habits. They can be learned behaviors, addictions, attitudes, things we’ve picked up from our parents or along our way of life. Much is salvageable. However not all is. When it comes to relationships and growing families, if you’re in it for the long haul, don't take your families for granted. Kick these bad habits out of your home.
1. Selfish acts of kindness, aka being a martyr. We all know this person, it might even be you, and hey, we’ve all been here. But this is the person who does something nice just for the attention or recognition of doing so. Here and there, not so bad, but done on a consistent basis with little to no alignment in authenticity for the act, leads to a lack of trust and safety in the relationship. Why? Because humans are pretty keen on picking up meta emotion - the bigger more powerful meanings behind things that aren’t necessarily spoken - and this type of behavior can’t go on for long without some deep-seated anger seething out of sides. Not only does this prevent people from coming close to you, believe it or not it makes you less trustworthy because your intentions aren’t always clear.
2. Mixed messages or hidden meanings. These are the quiet killers in a family and/or marriage because they’re a slow death and most often so incredibly subtle that you need a lot of evidence to build up before you can make your case. If you walk away feeling stung by someone but you’re uncertain as to why, or the emotion you most often feel is confusion, this could be the reason behind it. On the other end as the mixed message maker, there are potentially a couple of different reasons for your delivery. One, you’re afraid of just coming out and saying what you want to say. You don’t know how or haven’t learned how to say what you mean. Two, you think you’re secretly getting one over on someone. Maybe you’re throwing some shame around or low self-esteem. Or three, a combo of the above. Likely if you’re on the receiving end of this kind of communication you work really hard at giving that person the benefit of the doubt as much as you can but patience wears thin on us all at some point, which is why this kind of communication can be a slow death to a relationship. It can go on for so long, but only for so long. Again this one comes back to trust, in that people don’t really know what you’re intentions are but add to that, that they also feel unsafe emotionally around you and the unstable environment that you may be providing.
3. Ignoring or simply not paying attention. There’s a big difference between being a spectator of your relationships and being a participant of them. The difference lies in what you see and what you do. Love and beauty and joy and gratitude are all around you but you have to actually see them to feel them. This takes spending time with your loved ones, quick pauses and paying attention to small moments. It also takes stepping outside of yourself and looking at life from someone else’s perspective. If you’re not careful here, it can be very easy to become self-consumed, only picking up on annoying, exhausting, and simply put, not good. Unfortunately, this will not bring you joy, it will bring you perpetual negativity, crankiness and disconnection. It will also make those around you, not want to be around you. If you struggle with this one, start by trying to hear laughter first. Then look for it and pay attention to what you see. Look into the eyes of the people who love you, especially when they’re talking. Take it even one step further and show interest in them by asking questions and getting curious. Not sure where to start? Start anywhere with anything, and anyone at truly anytime.
Sunday night, sitting at Noodles with my daughter as we wait for our food, she and I hop on our phones. It’s a typical scene, we’ve got a little time to kill, we’ve got nothing to do but wait, so why not check out our social media feeds to see what’s happening with the small world we’re plugged in to. We’re laughing, pointing out funny memes to one another, talking about Ariana Grande’s post, me of course talking about The 1975 (because I’m still not over it). Just hanging out excitedly awaiting our food and our next stop, the movie Love, Simon. I’m loving this time with her, I’m all in. And then, one swipe up with a finger pops a picture of an event that many, many of the women I know were at over the weekend.
Leaned over my shoulder, my daughter turns her head from my screen and looks at my face. “Mom, were you there?” No, I wasn’t. It’s not that I missed the photo op, it’s that I wasn’t there at all. “I’m sorry. Are you mad?”
My daughter’s 12 years old. She’s in middle school, the land of the uninvited and wanting to belong. I had no idea that at almost 40, she and I would be occupying the same headspace. How is that even possible? I have a much wiser brain now than when I was 12. And, I’ve done a shit ton of emotional work. What the real f here? Have I not grown as much as I thought? Why am I finding myself affected by this?
I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times. From clients to friends, to family members, the topic rings true across ages. Feeling left out, hurt, unwanted, like you don’t belong and had hoped that by this time you’d be over it or finally have found your people. And the thing is, while the conversation isn’t the same between the 12 and 40 year olds, the emotions are. The truth is, everyone wants to fit in and it sucks when you don’t.
What I’ve come to realize is that it isn’t that you’ll never want to not fit in, so don’t wish for this. A sense of belonging is what connects us to the people we love, to the world. It’s freeing and vulnerable and where the magic happens. Where the magic freaking happens! Belonging is one of the emotions we long for for our entirety. But the ways in which we belong, the ways in which we want to belong and what it takes to get us there as we grow older, change.
As I sat with my daughter and thought about the answer to her question of whether I was mad, I smiled to myself a little bit and thought about gratitude, always my go-to. In that moment, I was so grateful to know that I am capable of feeling deeper than anger. At one point in my life, I did not know that. At one point in my life, anger was my go-to.
I was also grateful that I knew my shame demons were close-by and I could spot them. I haven’t always known this either. In fact, not that long ago I would’ve crumbled over this, my self-story reading things I wouldn’t dare say aloud, being unforgiving to myself and then taking it out on the people I love. I’m grateful that knowing this has saved my ass from a shame storm countless times and has kept me from unnecessary suffering.
Finally, I am grateful, so grateful that I was sitting and having this conversation with my daughter who’s love I can feel every single day and who’s eyes and heart were looking to me to provide her with the sense that all was well, that I was okay and so was she. Being in front of her, processing an emotion at the same time I was feeling it, well, I was actually grateful for that too.
Our food came, and while I had momentarily lost my appetite, the smell of the food and the warmth of conversation with family checked me back into the present quickly realizing I’m way more than just okay. I’m grateful.
“Who you are to the world is pretty terrifying because what if the world doesn’t like you?”
- Simon Spier, Love, Simon
(thought by everyone, ever)
Have you ever been called a “dirty fighter” or told that “you don’t fight fair?” Ever been on the receiving end of someone’s anger and left feeling confused and awful, hurt to the core not because of actions but because of words? Chances are you were part of a fight aimed at shame.
Shame is a primary human emotion, something all of us feel and one that, at its root of roots can stand alone without any other emotion. Think of it like the primary colors on a color wheel. There are just some colors you can’t have without red, yellow or blue but they're also strong on their own.
Anger, sadness, hurt and betrayal, embarrassment, humiliation, insecurity and rage are some of the emotional colors that are associated with shame and are often the ones that get triggered easily and quickly in a heated conversation or argument. Since these are more common emotions that people are more generally familiar with, they can very easily disguise shame. If you’re not aware or don't know, you can get caught up in an unfair fight without realizing what emotion you're really working with.
Shame is mean. It’s vengeful. It does not aim to understand or empathize. Forget compassion or consideration. Shame won’t hand you a tissue if you’re crying in fact it’s not phased at all. It stares cold, icy and hits you at the core. It feels like rage, it’s loud, and it’s so incredibly pained that it will do anything to get out and onto someone else. And its often successful because its sneaky. Before you know it you’ve either launched shame or you’ve been verbally pummeled.
If you’re on the receiving end a couple of tell-tale sings can include feeling stunned, deeply hurt, and sometimes, often times, speechless. Your thought process often sounds like, “I can’t believe she/he just said that,” “how could he/she say such a thing,” “he/she’s not making any sense.” Your emotions are hurt, pain and confusion, which can of course flow right into anger. But before you launch a counter shame attack, stop and try a few things first.
One, consider yourself an innocent bystander in this person’s shame storm. You’re the debris, not the tornado. Don’t become the tornado. Two, acknowledge internally to yourself that the person you’re in conflict with is in their own shame storm. What most of us know is how to fight shame with shame, which breeds shame. What most of us don’t know is how to fight shame with the anti-body; acknowledgement, attention and empathy. Third, if you deem it appropriate and and can keep your cool, call it like you see it. “I see that you’re really really angry with me right now. You’re saying some incredibly hurtful things that make me think this might not be a good time to talk about this. I know you want to hurt me because you feel hurt. I don’t want to do that with you.”
Signs that you could be throwing some shame around; emotional flooding, seeing red, immense physiological response(s) like head-to-toe tingling, body heat rising, verbal vomiting, confusion, rapid-fire thoughts and overwhelming urges of anger, rage, even disbelief. On the contrary, you may feel nothing at all, like an untouchable numbing.
If you’re the shame-thrower, stop. Recognize that shame is running your show, you’re not in control emotionally. Take back control by recognizing that there are a number of players in your shame game here. You can be hurt, angry, afraid, disappointed, embarrassed. You probably are at least one of those if not more. You might even feel shame in and of itself. But unless you call it what it is, you remain out of control. Own what you feel, not revenge of what you feel.
It can be helpful to keep in mind that the goal of an argument isn't to make someone feel the pain you feel. It’s to try and describe how you feel to the other person so they can have an opportunity to support you and show empathy. When you’re using shame to argue, the only thing you are making someone understand is that you are capable of immense amounts of hurt, the absolute opposite way to get someone to give you what you need. Used over time, this style of fighting can deeply damage trust and can create emotional trauma in your relationship, drifting both you and your partner further away from the emotional intimacy and trust we all need.
Tech is getting a really bad rep these days. There is so much judgement to be had when it comes to tech and kids, tech and social media, social media and relationships, tech in schools, tech for downtime. The list does not end. As a parent, it can be so hard to know if you’re doing anything right when it comes to the world of technology and how and when we let our kids use it. If you’re single, tech and dating apps can be great and exhausting, and interesting and oh so offensive (sometimes all of that at the same time). For those of us that remember a time without tech, this world we now live in can be scary and overwhelming, mostly because we don’t know what rules to follow only to feel bad if we follow the wrong ones.
Give your kid a phone. Don’t give your kid a phone. Life would be easier if my kid had a phone. My kid will find porn if they get a phone. Let your kid have downtime on the iPad. iPads are bad for kids. iPads have educational games. My kid will find porn if they’re on the iPad. Maybe I’ll try a dating app? Dating apps are desperate. But that’s how people meet. Someone’s gonna send me an x-rated pic for sure. Follow on FB. FB sucks. I suck. Life sucks. (why can’t I unlike this like 1,000 times). (like).
I believe we’ve now created a culture of anxiety and fear-mongering when it comes to technology. With new studies coming out daily, community programs and news stories on cyber bullying, tech addiction, even headlines of what could really be a positive story about technology, turn our fears into a fast frenzy internally. So what’s the best thing to do if living in a yurt off the land somewhere in the middle of not-telling-anyone-where-you’re-going isn’t right for you?
First, remember that you can handle this. No we didn’t have these problems as kids and our parents never had to deal with all the bad stuff that comes from the tech era but we did have other stuff that for our time was just as big. Bullies were there, monsters were there, bad news was there, the threat of us being kidnapped was there, finding porn in a friend’s garage was there. Bad stuff was everywhere, it still is. For our time, because I don’t believe in comparative suffering, our parents were freaked out too, just as much. Does it matter if they were more freaked out or less freaked out? I don’t know. Being a parent is still being a parent right? Not getting invited to a party didn’t hurt less because it wasn’t online.
Second, try to remember the good things that tech has brought to our lives and use them in the ways you love them. I can find my friends and my kids all with the same device. I can see where my kids are, they know where I am, I can literally reach out and phone a friend whenever I want to or need to. (Although more on people not picking up phone calls anymore later) I can be resourceful and I can share beautiful moments with people I love. I can connect with friends visually as well as emotionally and I can freaking not get lost when I’m going somewhere! I don’t have to spend time on apps that make me sad or feel left out and I can create time and space boundaries so I don’t work when it’s family time and I can step away from my tech when I want to or need to. I get to make that decision and it’s empowering to know that I can make that decision from anywhere at anytime. I can also help other people make those decisions as well as we all are learning how to fit our devices into our lives and not the other way around.
Next, use your tech as a topic of conversation, not a way to communicate. One of the coolest things I think social media, new sites and blogs can do, if we allow it, is bridge a gap between people. So maybe we’re not “real” friends in “real” life, but it’s your birthday. That’s one more birthday wish you’re gonna get from me - not just online - but in person too. I saw your kid had surgery? How’s he doing - in person. You took a beautiful photo - that was gorgeous - live. Believe it or not, liking someone's news online but not bringing it up in person, not the best form and definitely won't bring you closer to anyone. Bring up the things you saw, the news someone posted, a birthday, a new app, a top story, a meme into your real world too, it’s all way too good to keep it in the electronic one!
Finally, use your tech to learn a new skill and share it with the world (online and off). Have a new hobby or interest? Find one! Top sites like CreativeLive and ClicknMoms offer creative classes on anything from photography to editing to writing to jewelry-making and so much more. Learn something new that inspires you and let the people hear it! Online and on deck - we all learn from one another and there’s nothing that inspires us more than people being inspired to do something different or learn something new. Envy is the best way to get your butt moving and change your life. Look at what others are doing as a means to create something yourself, not something to get jealous or intimidated over. And when in doubt, ask your friends and family for support online and in person on your new hobby, skill, talent or technique. There are so many good reasons to involve other people on your new journey and one of those reasons is that it’s contagious…and inspiring…and keeps us accountable (okay that’s more than one but I couldn’t help it they were just coming).