I don't know about you, but when my family gets together for the holidays, it's often, well, mass chaos. There are three generations—each of us with different expectations, energy levels, interests, attention spans, appetites, cleanliness habits, communication styles and physical capabilities.
We all try to gather at Grandma and Grandpa's house for a week or more. Twelve people, sometimes more (we tend to take in "strays" who can't be with their families this time of year), can get a bit crowded. But the more, the merrier, right?! In addition, we tend to operate on "Goyer Time" (perhaps your family also has its own time zone?), which is generally completely unrealistic and leaves us quite often late. It's not the least bit unusual for us to be rushing to church, a restaurant, or the movie theater just in the nick of time. Since many of us think we can do a heck of a lot more during any given time period than is humanly possible, there often can be cause for disappointment, anger, or hurt feelings.
Don't get me wrong. We really do love each other, and being apart during the holidays is like torture to us. The CIA could extract any number of secrets from any one of us just by threatening to separate us over the holidays. We are holiday freaks—all of us. But if we are honest, we might also admit that the annual holiday family gathering can be a bit draining. And we don't want anyone going home with post-holiday stress syndrome.
Over the years, we have developed routines and traditions that help things flow more smoothly. For example, the adults take turns fixing dinner each night. Still, there are moments of utmost frustration. So, a few years ago, my instincts honed during my years as a music therapist/activities coordinator kicked in, and I decided to get my family organized for our holiday visit together. Now, you have to understand this really is like herding cats—cats that all talk simultaneously. It was a very ambitious goal. A tough job worthy of hazard pay, but somebody had to do it! So, I put on my helmet and went to work.
I got two large flip-chart-size papers and taped them to the wall. One was a brainstorming page, and on the other I created a column for each day that we were going to be together. I called for a family conference. They knew I was serious about this. (A tip here: The family conference tends to go faster and easier if there are no video games or books allowed and if there are plenty of age-appropriate snacks and libations available for all. If you feed them, they will come.) It was a wee bit of a challenge the first time we did this. It felt a bit too "formal," and the decibel levels got quite high. But once we got through the first one, everyone voted to continue the tradition. Every family member gets a chance to put forth the things he or she wants to do—no matter the age or position in the family.
It's actually quite enlightening to hear what the priorities are and how they change over the years. They range from walking the dog every morning, Grandpa's storytelling, eating lunch at our favorite diner, visiting the Chandler tumbleweed tree, baking cookies, playing video games, hiking, taking down the decorations, watching movies or family videos, sleeping, and making sure we have enough unscheduled downtime. Of course, there are always a few wiseguys who add things like "put curlers in Grandpa's hair," but that usually gets voted down. There's nothing like having it all down on paper for the group to realize that we can't do everything. So, we prioritize and assign time frames on the calendar. We find that this process really makes us consciously aware of what is most important to us.