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With Family Gatherings Looming, Here are Some Tips to Keep the Peace

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As we write this, Christmas 2016 is one week away. If you’re like many people, some of your family plans have already been made and it’s probably too late to change them. However – we enjoyed reading this article from the website Next Avenue about ways to keep the peace among family members this holiday season. Even though the article first appeared a year ago, these are timeless principles which we pass along in hopes that this year’s get-togethers with family and friends can be filled with joy – or at least not quite so plagued with friction and irritation! There’s little doubt that holiday gatherings can get emotionally interesting.

The problem arises, says Next Avenue, because the holiday season is so packed with our high expectations for storybook family gatherings. “Our expectations of family members and a desire to have a heartwarming, joyful time with them seem to peak during holiday gatherings,” the article says. “Yet that’s precisely when relatives can be at their worst, replaying old grievances and interacting in incredibly unproductive ways.” Add to this the stress of preparing for the holidays, the angst of spending more than we can afford on gifts, and the hassle of long-distance travel, and you have a toxic recipe. Let’s look at the Next Avenue article and see what they suggest to ease the stress and keep the peace this Christmas and beyond.

First tip, says the article, is to bury the hatchet. You probably aren’t going to be successful getting into the same old argument with your sister, your mom or your brother-in-law, and you won’t get them to change – so this year you need to resolve to let it go. One way to do this is to choose to step back and watch instead of wading into the fray. “Simply observe the goings-on rather than interact with them. Reshape your mindset and resolve not to engage with taunts or baiting comments.” Seeking to exercise forgiveness instead of combativeness may not be easy, “but it’s essential if you want to free yourself from emotions that can hold you captive.”

Next, hold your tongue. This relates closely to Tip #1 and it means you need to avoid the all too common habit many of us have of blurting out our thoughts to those closest to us. We say things to parents and adult kids we would never say to strangers! The result is hurt feelings and the reopening of old wounds. “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,” says the book of Proverbs – a prescription we would be smart to follow.  The author of the Next Avenue article also quotes an ancient sage who wrote, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ At the second ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’” Good advice!

The third suggestion is one we remind ourselves of year after year: simplify. There are many ways to accomplish this goal, from changing your plan for gift-giving to deciding to hold your family gathering at a restaurant to giving yourself permission to cut back and quit striving for Martha Stewart perfection. “Start by distinguishing what’s really essential from what’s not and draw a line in the sand,” says Next Avenue. “Eliminate anything from your to-do list that isn’t a must-do. Then, get help accomplishing what remains and threatens to leave you feeling exhausted, stressed or resentful. If you can’t get the support you need for your task, don’t take it on.”

The final three suggestions are a blend of the simple and the not-so-simple. For example, it’s a great idea to steal moments of relaxation during busy holiday periods – and remember not to skimp on your exercise routine with the excuse that you don’t have enough time. Exercise and rest are both vital during times of busy-ness and stress. That’s the fourth suggestion and it shouldn’t be too difficult for most of us. The fifth idea, however, is more challenging: Next Avenue suggests we reinvent our traditions, dropping the more stressful, preparation-driven, expectation-laden rituals in favor of simpler ones: serving Christmas dinner at a shelter, for example, or visiting a nursing home, or even taking a holiday vacation, with the family or by yourself. The final idea follows the same line: rethink your gift-giving. For many, the labor of selecting, buying, wrapping, and – yes – returning gifts is a huge (and expensive) part of holiday stress. If it’s too late to change your plans for Christmas 2016, make a note to have a family conference early in 2017 so next year can finally be different. You’ll be glad you did.

And speaking of things you’ll be glad you did, here’s a gift you can give to yourself: plan now to attend one of AgingOption’s free LifePlanning Seminars early in the New Year. These highly popular information-packed sessions will introduce you to the concept of a LifePlan, the most comprehensive approach to retirement planning we know of. LifePlanning goes far beyond mere financial planning to encompass all the other essential elements of a solid retirement plan: housing choices, legal protection, family communication and medical coverage. Your LifePlan allows you to fulfill your dreams for a secure and fruitful retirement. There’s a simple way to find out more, without obligation, and that’s by planning now to attend a free seminar in your area. For dates, times, locations and online registration, click here. You can also contact us for assistance and registration during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy a joyful, peaceful holiday season!

(originally reported at

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