WHETHER TOGETHER OR APART, FAMILIES CAN BE JOYFUL
by Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson
When You Have to Be Apart
For many of us, holidays are spent with smaller than usual groups of family members and friends. Perhaps our children have moved far from home, or perhaps this year other commitments make it hard for some of our loved ones to come. We've had our share of these holiday experiences, too, and know that some of the energy and love you feel is refocused toward sending packages and waiting for holiday messages-especially from your grandchildren.
You can still wrap up some of that extra holiday love, however. Take the time to be creative, even with your packing materials. Cushion your box with things that can become art in the right little hands. Enclose instructions with your package about how to transform your crumpled tissue paper into a mosaic or tissue flowers; how to turn your packaging bubbles into an easy-to-do "bubble print"; or how to reshape your crumpled newspaper into a papier-mâché form (see next page for Package Fun art projects). And you can always sprinkle in among the packing some love notes from you to your little one.
Your gift card, too, can make you memorable. Our friend from Sweden told us about a Swedish custom: each gift is personalized with a lighthearted poem on a card that partially reveals the contents of the package. We have tried this, too, and it can be a lot of fun. In fact, it's an especially nice way to capture the interest of preschoolers who love rhymes-and to keep them from unwrapping everything quite as quickly as they otherwise might.
Celebrating on A Different Day
Holidays are about sharing-and good food, gifts, time, and attention are just a few of the ways we share ourselves. But it can be tricky to keep in mind as well how other family members are giving of their precious time and resources. Many young families have not one but two sets of long-distance grandparents, and they spend much of their energy during the holidays traveling. When you were a child, holidays probably meant enormous family gatherings on the exact day, because the extended family lived nearby. Now, however, smaller groups gather because families have scattered-and the celebration with family can occur many days before or after the actual holiday. In these days of stress and strain on young families, how can you help your children and grandchildren feel good about their holidays? Your children will cherish most your flexibility, generosity, and understanding. Try to avoid thinking of Thanksgiving dinner as something that has to happen on Thanksgiving Day; instead, allow it to happen when the family can gather, even if that means you're having dinner the Sunday afterward at 10 pm. If you keep family as the focus, your time with your grandchildren and grown children will be as relaxed as you had hoped it would be-no matter when it occurs.
When "Together" and "a Holiday Visit" Hit a Bump
It's just not fair. You've spent days getting ready. You've spent weeks planning meals and stocking the freezer. Your closets are filled to the top with brightly wrapped gifts. And your family is now home, just as you dreamed, but after two days of catching up, the grandkids are climbing the walls (via the couch and end table); your children, now adults, are passive blobs glued to the television set; and you're working your derrière off just to keep some semblance of order in the house. Or maybe you're blessed with go-getter children who love to help but, in the process, rearrange your cupboards and create an impenetrable offensive line in front of the stove. Before you let this or any other minor problem get out of hand, you might want to try some Johnson-Carlson family tricks to get everyone working toward the same goal.
Perhaps it's time to resurrect the Job Chart, that dreaded chore list that your children had thought was safely buried somewhere in the basement. But this time it doesn't have to carry the weight that it did when they were young-just take up the old idea and give it a new, lighter approach. Make a list of everything that needs to be done so that the grandparents can share fully in the quality family time. Call a family meeting of your couch potatoes-or a huddle of your offensive line-and let them know that you need each and everyone's help. You can even help the young grandchildren choose from among the manageable jobs and leave the rest for the adults to either assign or just remember and do as needed. You'll be amazed at how easy it can be and how proud your little ones are to help, especially when you tell them how "grown up" they are to be able to do so many important things for Grandma and Grandpa.
From Grandloving: Making Memories with Your Grandchildren, by Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson. © 1996 by Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson. Excerpted by arrangement with Fairview Press. $14.95. Available in bookstores, or call 800-262-1546, or clcik here.