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Celebrating Family

By Diane Berry #102219

Question: Since our children have grown and established homes and lives of their own, my husband and I have made the adjustment to alternating when and where we celebrate the holidays among those of us who are available. And, while we usually attend a church service together during that time, we would like to incorporate something more meaningful in our celebration. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Scattered,
What a great question! The years seem to fly by unless we take the initiative to slow them down by way of meaningful rituals and traditions. One solution that many couples and families choose is the practice of honoring the end of our year and the time when the earth is dormant and awaiting new spring growth, by acknowledging the achievements of the past year and looking forward to the future. I suspect it was a need for such a meaningful celebration that spawned the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

In my family, back when our children were very young, my husband and I would ring in the New Year at home while our babies slept soundly in their beds; we developed the tradition of writing down accomplishments of the past year and setting goals for the new year. Never a fan of the word “resolution,” which sounds more like a command than a good idea or something fun and exciting, we opted instead for the “accomplishments” and “goals” language. To give you an idea of how young our children were at the time this tradition was established, one of our goals for that New Year was to have only one baby in (cloth) diapers! Over the years, I have suggested this simple tradition to dozens of clients. And research has shown that actually writing goals down makes you more likely to accomplish them.

As our children grew, we incorporated them in our ritual as well. We would normally have a special dinner, and everyone could pick what they wanted, ranging from lobster to steak to stuffed chicken breasts. Then, as soon as dinner was done and the table was cleared, we would begin. The actual process for this ritual started a day, or several, before when they were told/reminded what we planned to do so they would be thinking about what they had each accomplished and what goals to set. Earlier in the day, each would come to me individually so I could type their entries into our family plan; then, at the designated time after dinner, we would read them.

It is a nice idea to have the youngest read her next oldest sibling’s accomplishments as it can help set achievable goals for her as she grows up. Continue on with each next child or grandchild reading the achievements of the next oldest. Finish with you or your husband finally reading your accomplishments as a family. Then, on to the goals.

The process generally takes at least an hour for our family, now that we have incorporated a son-in-law and such assorted friends who happen to be at our home the evening we designate for this celebration. But everyone seems to enjoy the process. Also, it is great to reminisce and take the time to truly appreciate what you all have done over the past 12 months and set some plans for the upcoming year.

This need not happen on New Year’s Eve or Day, but can be done any time it works for you and your family. If your family, like many others, postpones their official get-together until sometime after the busy holiday season during the dormant months of January and February, this is perfect! But the most important thing is getting together, so it can be done any day during this time of year.

Celebrating Family 1

 Most people can list the things they have accomplished over the past year but tend to get hung up on the “resolution” word and have more difficulty with the goals. To get you started, here are a few family or couple goals that sound like fun:

• Plan a family camping trip at a campground or RV park centrally located to all of your homes.
• Plan a destination camping/RV trip at a resort or amusement park that you all want to visit (the selection of the park/resort can be done immediately after the goals are completed). As you know, the best time to plan trips is when you make the decision to go and all the parties are in the same place. You can start off the year with good intentions, but without active planning you may find yourself at the end of the year with no trips planned or taken.
• Visit three national parks that you have not been to. (We tend to get into habits of visiting familiar places. While that can be comfortable, it is good to see something new.)
• Visit at least one state you have not been to. Or, if you have been to all 50 states, spend a week at a campground you have never visited.
• Spend a month or more on the road (if you are not already traveling on the road full-time).

For more personal or individual goals, some good ideas are to maintain good health, continue to work out at least three to five times per week, and one of my perpetual goals is to finally lose that last five pounds. In addition to travel plans, couple or family goals can involve eating healthy meals, managing money wisely, making sure the bills get paid and putting aside a certain amount for savings. Generally, people who set a specific amount that they
want to save are more likely to actually accomplish this goal.

It is good to incorporate some more abstract and relationship-oriented goals as well, such as the following:

• We want to continue to nurture a caring, loving relationship with each other and cherish time together.
• Strive to treat each other with respect and love, even when we disagree.
• I plan to develop a closer relationship with the grandchildren I am not as close to by communicating in a way that is most comfortable for him/her, including Skype, e-mail, texting on a regular basis (even if I have never done these things before).
• I will list five things every morning that I am grateful for.

Another great focus is learning new things. Learning keeps our brain young and energetic, forming new synapses (connections) and even helping to ward off Alzheimer’s disease. My husband is retired but is currently taking two classes at our local community college (at the high cost of $5 a credit!), one on basic tree care and the other on solar power. As we are currently living in a stationary home, these are things that we hope will be helpful to us and our home. Even if you are on the road full-time, look for a day-long or weekend workshop on a subject that interests you. It will be good for your health, and you will learn something new.

This has become a part of our holiday celebration that our entire family looks forward to. Last year, one of the most enthusiastic participants was our son-in-law, who had only participated once before but who spent several days listing accomplishments and finalizing his goals. What a wonderful way to celebrate the year that has passed and the time we have shared with family and to set the stage for the new growth of spring, which is right around the corner. Enjoy!

Diane is a therapist in private practice who works extensively with clients on stress management and relationship issues. She and her family are also avid RVers. Her articles are meant to provide information of a general nature and are not intended as specific psychological advice or to take the place of consulting with a health care professional.

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