Family Meetings Make the Season Bright
By Mary Beth Lagerborg
With the holidays swiftly approaching, it’s time for the event that most ensures the “Happy” in our Holidays: the family meeting. The purpose is to sit around the table with pumpkin bread and apple cider — something yummy — and talk about our hopes and expectations for the holidays.
The meeting has lots of happy consequences, I’ve found over the several years that we’ve gathered. It helps us plan family activities with greater unity and understanding. We can focus on the fun and the wonder, without being side-swiped by hurt feelings or disappointment.
I remember our son Dan’s comment at a family meeting long ago: “Give us more choices.” I shouldn’t necessarily purchase tickets for a Christmas concert and expect the family to cheerfully dress up and go. Even toddlers would say this, I think, if they could articulate it. “Don’t plan too much for us.”
Who attends the holiday family meeting? In our family it’s always been our nuclear family. But we remember that we represent many others: an elderly grandmother, a family related to us by a son’s marriage, aunts and uncles far away. We consider how our plans will affect other family members and their expectations.
Here are questions that we address at our holiday family meeting. They lead to some excellent discussions! There are no “right” or “wrong” answers, just a free exchange.
- Where does each family member want to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?
- What was the best thing about the holidays last year that we want to be sure to continue?
- What was the worst thing about the holidays last year that we don’t want to do again?
- Whom do we want to be sure to spend time with this season, and when?
- Who in our circle of influence needs extra care this season, and how can we help?
- What sort of budget do we need to keep to cover the holidays? Think positively here: Rather than “what do we need to do without?” think “how can we celebrate with the resources we have?”
- What are our must-have holiday foods?
- What are our family traditions? Which do we want to continue? What new ones do we want to try?
- What regular weekly activities might we let go of for a month or so while the schedule is so full?
The family meeting isn’t necessarily the time to make plans and decisions. That may take some extra information-gathering and time to think and pray. But it is important to follow through soon to take advantage of family excitement and collective goodwill. You want to give adjustment time for a grandmother who may be disappointed, or out-of-town relatives who need to make travel plans.
After you’ve plotted activities on the calendar, go over it with the eraser side of the pencil before dates are finalized. Try to be realistic about the time, energy and money you will have and don’t book more than one or two special activities per week. Remember that the very best family time is often spent in simple things like reading a Christmas story aloud together or taking a lazy evening car ride in pajamas, listening to Christmas music and looking at the Christmas lights.