By Valeria Vilar, MA, BEd, LMHC
The Holiday season is a time of great expectations. People plan with anticipation how to make each event a special time to be celebrated and remembered. Different celebration models reflect each one’s nature: romantic environments, fireplaces, inspiring music on one side; on the other, fireworks, and exotic, exhilarating carnival-like parties. There is not a universal or proper way of celebrating, on the contrary, we are able to create and participate in the kind of festivity that best suits our preferences.
The Holiday season is also a very conflicting time. Some couples find it difficult to match their expectations and families are torn away by competing events and celebrating styles. Even the selection of gifts could become a bitter confrontation.
What happened to Patricia is a good example of a not so happy holiday season: Patricia planned for months to spend the most magical and romantic holidays in her life. With due anticipation, she asked her husband to make reservations at her dream place, but her husband had another idea in mind. Patricia insisted and her husband finally agreed with her, not without feeling a little frustration. Their two children added more layers to the problem; one of them, a teenager, did not want to be out of town and lose the party at his friends’ house. Despite their family resistance, Patricia was feeling so happy imagining and planning her “perfect holiday” with her family that she pushed hard until everybody accepted her plan. She also bought wonderful and personalized gifts for everyone, imagining the surprised and happy faces while unwrapping the presents in the romantic placed that she selected.
It came as a surprise only to Patricia that the holidays ended up being a frustrating experience for the entire family. The place she selected was indeed truly romantic, but lacked any enjoyable characteristic for the rest of her family: no sports facilities for her husband to work out and, isolated as it was, no cell phone reception to keep her teenage connected with his friends.
The ideal of a holiday getaway custom made to her expectations turned into a boring nightmare, in which time passed slowly and the only thing that they all experience was the urge to go back home as soon as possible. Including Patricia, who felt betrayed by her family’s unwillingness to enjoy a great time. Even the gift exchange became a frustrating incident; those well thought personalized gifts, soon turned - in the hands of her family - into indifferent objects. They were not what each one would have wished, but instead, what Patricia would have loved for them to wish to receive. Patricia’s own gift from the family was also disappointing; something that she felt was selected hurriedly, without taking into consideration to her style.
On their way back home, Patricia’s family was silent and withdrawn. They argued for minor reasons. This experience was not new for them. Once again, the same pattern of a poor family communication process ruined even the most sought-after time. The Holiday season just presented to them a new opportunity to reiterate the same pattern of inefficient dialogue and understanding. That’s a gift – of course, masked as a punishment – Holidays never forget to bring: a perfect mirror of what is happening in a family during the entire year.
Families who learn and practice their communication skills, making explicit in a respectful way their likes and dislikes, their expectations and worries, their wishes and fears, are able to plan together, taking into consideration, as much as possible, conflicting needs. An efficient dialogue promotes satisfying agreements through which probably nobody would be able to impose his/her ideal plan but everyone would have a say in the final design.
Learning communication skills helps finding a healthy way to interact with the people that you love. Sharing your expectations and planning together will increase your possibilities of reaching a more desirable result and a happier Holiday season in a realistic and enjoyable way.