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Don’t Let Norman Rockwell Ruin Your Holidays

With the holidays upon us, it is easy to picture the perfect family season.  Everyone gathered together in perfect harmony, multiple generations of relatives unified by genetics or marriage smiling in unison and showing gratitude for all the work that is placed into creating a memory-defining moment.  And then there is everyone else’s family counting the minutes until dear Aunt Ginny decides to stop talking about politics, texting sympathetic friends sarcastic emojis and quotes that end in “…and she actually said that out loud” and trying to put the relationships and interactions in context for the kiddos.

Now that we are knee deep in holiday hoopla, here are some ways that we can work toward helping ourselves and our kids survive the holiday season and come out on the other side with memories that will allow our family to reminisce about the end of 2018……

Lower expectations (you’ll be less disappointed)

It can be easy to try and pack 25 pounds of fun into a 15 pound holiday season, but when reducing stress and creating realistic expectations for the holiday season, less can often feel a lot better.  Let’s take a page from the ghost of Christmas future – how do we want this holiday season to be remembered…..checking boxes or creating family memories?  Often, when we spend a lot of time shuttling from one family/friend’s house to another, the car rides are more memorable than getting to every person’s home.  By lowering our expectations in what needs to be done, we can often increase the ratio of tasks that the family actually wants to complete.

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Experience trumps material

  1. Looking for gifts that you’ll remember giving/getting long after the groundhog gives us the gift of 6 more weeks of winter?  Try putting resources into experiences rather than ‘stuff’.  Giving and getting experiences increases both the giver’s and receiver’s happiness, satisfaction, memories of the gift and level of excitement more than getting a thing.  Think weekends versus wookies or time away rather than gadgets when it comes to play time.


The best traditions convey meaning and can be broken without consequence

Having family or holiday traditions are incredibly important.  They promote memories, bonding and give meaning to holidays that is personal and connects people.  And, like most important things, when we hold on too tightly to a tradition or when changing a tradition has interpersonal consequences, it is likely a sign that the actual intention of the tradition may have been lost.  There is nothing wrong with completing a tradition because ‘we have always done ‘X’ in our family’, but when the meaning is lost or the traditional causes resentment or frustration, it can be great to evaluate the ‘how’ and ‘why’ the tradition should or should not continue.


Survey Says!

One way to avoid playing family feud can be a quick survey so everyone can have the opportunity to have a handful of things prioritized that they enjoy during the holidays.  Often, the strongest, loudest, oldest person can place themselves in the driver’s seat while the passengers may feel resentment about going along for the ride.  By asking what is important for everyone in the family to accomplish, it can help cement an experience that is family-friendly and inclusive of everyone’s goals.



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Why we hate New Year’s Resolution (and why they’re so important!)

Have you ever been asked what your resolutions for 20XX are?  It turns out that most people really dislike making resolutions, fail at those resolutions they do make and have few plans as to how they might actually achieve those goals once the calendar flips to February.  Resolutions, like goals, should be set through the SMART method of creating goals to have the greatest chance of success.  Other strategies that can help maximize the likelihood that our goals will be remembered and achieved include documenting goals, sharing with important people and having a fall back plan should our resolutions start to slip.  The best part about making resolutions is that they provide a framework for positive, self-directed change and the betterment of ourselves and those for whom we care.


And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?  The hope of a new beginning, more free time, increased opportunities to be with friends, healthier habits and getting just a little closer to that Norman Rockwell painting than we were last year.  Great expectations, daydreaming and goals drive us to be closer to the person we wish we could have been and hope to become in the coming year.  And the holidays provide a gift that we can give to our children to practice compassion for others and ourselves, perform acts of kindness for strangers, friends, family and ourselves and hope that taking just 5 minutes to practice a little gratitude will help each of us more easily recognized opportunities to see the good in ourselves and others.

Don’t Let Norman Rockwell Ruin Your Holidays

Jim Holsomback

Jim Holsomback (MA; ABT) is the director of clinical outreach for McLean Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and program director for Triad Adolescent Services, located in Lexington, Massachusetts. He has more than 20 years of experience working with adolescents and families struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and self-injury. Jim has a vast amount of experience teaching and supporting families struggling to identify ways to establish effective family systems as well as presenting in regional and national trainings and conferences on topics such as contingency management, digital and substance dependence and supporting parents of preteens and adolescents struggling with self-harm & suicidality.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Don’t Let Norman Rockwell Ruin Your Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Dec 2018
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