I actually wrote this right after Christmas 2018, but I recently revisited because in New England we have a delightful weeklong break in mid-February. You see, if I’m not intentional about the disruptions of everyone being home on break, our time off together can be an epic fail. Know what I mean?
Whether it’s a vacation you have planned, a school break, too many snow days in a row, or a holiday, time together does not have to be chaotic and tense. For our family, we actually needed it to go so far as to be restorative and healing. It was a huge prayer on my heart. If this is you, read on. Our holiday break a few months ago brought peace and refreshing in only ways God could have orchestrated.
I’m back—I think—for now. My Advent season went off the rails. In short: We are still troubleshooting causation of a significant health decline in one of my children, and we have seen more specialists than I have money for copays—but that’s a story for another day. We may be talking about parasites. Still waiting on that result. Why parasites? Because we spent two years on a tiny island in the South Pacific Third World a decade ago. And my child is not absorbing proteins—which pretty much screws up health on several counts.
We had a good Christmas. I hope you did, too. We are trying some new supplements while we wait out answers, and there was stability and peace. Even so, I simultaneously slapped the back end of 2018 goodbye with a firm “Harrumph!” (Thank you, Urban Dictionary!) while fearing that the New Year would drop us back where we fell around Thanksgiving: fearful, despairing, shaken.
So, as the high schooler and middle schooler went back to school, I found the quiet to reflect on what worked for us this holiday break. I do this in the hopes that next year, or any year where we need healing, we remember what to do, with any necessary adjustments.
I was going to give this column the title: The Healing Power of Family, but I could not bring myself to do it. It’s not that I don’t find time with my kids and husband to be healing, because I absolutely do. But I also remember times when we damaged each other with a lack of self-control in our speech, when pride walls remained high and seemingly impenetrable, and when communication efforts were slim. I remember family therapy and the scars I still wear from that (but it was worth it!).
I also have enough abandonment issues of my own to know that inserting the word “family” in there would be loaded with connotation. Family can be healing, but it is not always. If you consider your safest, most loving peeps as “family,” then the word would be perfect. But, just in case you don’t, I want to focus on the positive people you spend your time with.
Here are the ways we kept our time together calm, bright, hopeful, and peace-filled this year.
1) We did not place huge expectations on ourselves.
As one example, feeling traumatized by a month of scary health issues in our family, I simply could not cope with social anxiety on Christmas Eve and sent my family to church without me. I stayed home streaming the service online with two eager dogs on my lap in my pajamas.
2) I let one of the family extroverts (who is notably outnumbered) plan a few things so I didn’t have to.
That led to a New Year’s Day outing to the city, delivering/elf-ing neighbors with goodies, and a crazy weekend of baking traditional cookies and treats. (The introverts worked in compromise mode, since our preference was to stay home for 10 days straight in pajamas with books and games, never seeing the light of day.)
3) We found a show that connected us all and binge-watched it together.
We love Doctor Who and all things sci-fi and dystopian, but it has been a while since we found a show that brought the 18, 15, and 13 year olds into the same room to connect over plotlines and character development. Not only did it provide great fodder for discussion on ethics and morals during car rides, but it gave us something to make fun of at times, too, besides ourselves. And that was a nice redirection, ya know what I mean? (The show is The 100, by the way. GREAT writing. Definitely needs to be screened by adults for war violence and sexuality. Way better plotline than LOST.)
4) We had a jigsaw puzzle out whenever anyone wanted to put some order into his or her world.
Somehow, a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle helps me find control and order in the chaos of what we can’t control in our everyday lives.
5) We played board and video games.
Before you get too excited, we are a Nintendo family. Mario, Zelda, Super Smash Bros, and LEGO are our pace. We aren’t Fortnite, Overwatch, Call of Duty, etc., peeps. Board-game-wise, we had several rounds of Sushi Go, Stratego, DOS, and many family laughs over DOG. This is one of my absolute favorites activities to bring us together.
6) We let the pets entertain us whenever we could not find words for each other or the atmosphere grew a bit too tense.
Our Shih Tzus, Samson and Delilah, provided hours of entertainment as they snuggled us, played ball, snored, or frolicked around in their Christmas sweaters fighting over new toys. Taking them for a walk (which, for a Shih Tzu, is only a block in each direction) was on the list but never happened. But whenever tempers started to flare, I found one of our moppy fuzzballs and put them on that person’s lap. Samson is a hefty quarterback Shih Tzu and has the double function of a weighed blanket to bring down anxiety. Delilah is slight and can curl up in your lap almost without you even noticing.
7) We sat around warm drinks in the center of our home.
We don’t all drink the same things (I drink everything), but there was plenty of espresso, coffee, tea varieties, and hot cocoa to go around. I surely love a warm drink in the colder months, and a fun Christmas mug makes it even more festive, but the gathering—the gathering of my favorite peeps—is what I cherish most.
8) We did not travel.
Don’t get me wrong. A well-timed vacation Christmas can be a wonderful thing. Another holiday season, it may just have hit the spot. But although we could have gone in several directions this year together, in my heart of hearts, I knew we needed just us.
9) We mostly kept to ourselves.
I want to say here that I cannot in good conscience recommend isolating as a long-term healthy option, but when life broke down a bit in our house, and one who was away at school came back to rejoin the household, it was good to hunker down and laugh together.
10) We processed.
We worked out a few difficult moments and topics. We revisited subjects to see if we were on the same page, and when we weren’t sure, we asked and gave space for the answer. Remember my family therapy comment? Yeah, trying to stay out of there by using what we learned!
Whatever and whoever we call “family,” the intimacy of time together, bed hair, pjs, shower-foregone days cannot be replaced. In the raw is where we come up against conflict and personality clashes, but it’s also where we find the deepest connection, create memories, and discover we truly do have each other’s backs.
I’ve waited my whole life to know that kind of safety—the one where despite the times we disappoint each other, we rally and create a fortress around the hurting one. I know a good thing when I see it, and I pray my children hold tightly to this closeness. Maybe for you it’s your family of origin, the family you have created, a group of unrelated people who are your tribe, or some combination. I pray you know this intimacy, this trust, this peace, and this “relaxing of the guard.” I pray my own created family dynamic sustains over the test of time and aging.
Our family is still learning and growing. We remain works-in-progress. At the end of the day, our mutual faith in Christ sustains us and rises above all earthly and personal conflict.
This isn’t a particularly Christian faith posting, as my columns typically are, but I want to emphasize that the foundation, the cornerstone of any wisdom we seek and path we take to peace is always Jesus. We could rest in letting down expectations and our guards because we each answer to Jesus, and He loves us individually and unconditionally. When we fail each other, He holds us, gently corrects us, offers us His way, and brings us back to each other.
*This blog was first a featured post at Your Tewksbury Today.