This season brings numerous opportunities to visit with friends and family. Whether you are at a party with friends, a family dinner, or even having in-home guests, sometimes the drama can be overwhelming. Disagreements, political rants, misbehaving grandchildren, and even skeletons from the past all seem to arise for these occasions to test our ability to remain calm and carry on. What are some practical things you can do to curb the drama this year and truly enjoy family gatherings?
1. Embrace serenity.. The serenity prayer says “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” But sometimes our thinking is more like “change the things I cannot accept. “ Decide ahead of time to not correct, teach, reprimand or accuse, even when the conversation gets heated. Endeavor to be a “cheerleader” for the day and encourage each person you have a conversation with. Express true interest in their lives, ask questions about their particular interests, and let them know how proud you are of them.
2. Give up expectations. Sometimes, we go into the holidays with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads and when the time comes, it feels like the nightmare before Christmas. Toss those expectations for the perfect gathering out the window and allow the serendipity of the moment take over. Roll with the unexpected and realize that all things will come together.
3. Set boundaries. You get to decide ahead of time how much contact you want to have with family members. If there are certain relatives that you simply cannot tolerate or who make you unhappy, make sure you set your limits and plan the escape ahead of time. Enjoy an abbreviated time with all and provide a valid reason for a graceful exit.
4. Become an observer. Improve your ability to observe and increase your situational awareness. Joe Navarro, a former FBI Special Agent says “Observation is not about being judgmental, it is not about good or bad, it is about seeing the world around you, about having situational awareness, and interpreting what it is that others are communicating both verbally and nonverbally. To observe is to see but also to understand and that requires listening to how you feel… If someone acts or even hints at anti-social tendencies it is best to avoid them and this can only be determined through critical observation”
5. Create moments of positive conversation. One of our favorite conversation games is Our Moments Generations. The game includes fun and meaningful communication cards for families. Slip a card under each plate at the table or pass around the box and allow each person to choose their own question. Once they have answered, allow others to chime in with similar stories. Storytelling has long been one of humanity’s most important forms of communication so when your family participates, they are growing closer together and building positive memories that will live on forever.
Writer Terry Mark once said “Never let somebody’s drama determine the outcome of your day.” He also said, “Work hard and always expect the best, but make your expectations so small such that they can be easily satisfied.” As you participate in family gatherings, gift exchanges or even at the evening dinner table, remember that avoiding the drama includes discretion, encouragement and surrender of expectations with a little bit of communication magic mixed in.
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