Ginnie Graham: Changing holiday traditions takes finesse
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2012
12/15/12 at 3:14 AM
Two years ago, Thanksgiving dinner moved to my house.
It was to help my mom, who hosted the meal for more than 25 years but had moved to an apartment after the death of my stepfather.
She was a trouper about it, although we could tell her feelings were bruised.
In hindsight, and after interviewing two experts, we should have brought the issue up earlier than three weeks before the holiday.
Be flexible: Traditions are rituals that loom large this time of year.
From where to gather to how to exchange gifts, problems pop up when the inevitable change occurs.
"A healthy family has traditions but are flexible enough that when something comes up, people are not bent out of shape," said Julie Miller-Cribbs, associate professor and assistant director of Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.
It's normal to change traditions as families evolve through births, growing children, deaths, moves and marriages.
The challenge is how to do that without causing family rifts or ill feelings.
"Start having the conversations earlier," Miller-Cribbs said. "Do not wait until Thanksgiving to start having this conversation. Be open and clear about our expectations and desires. The best way to do it is in advance. Time lets people get used to it."
Having alternatives to offer helps.
If gift-giving has gotten too expensive, try drawing names, opting for a service project or card exchange.
Sometimes, the question is where to meet. Consider a different day in the month or rotate the host home each year.
If you are the person upset about the change, take a breath.
"That person may feel there is a loss of a relationship," Miller-Cribbs said. "If you are the person struggling with change, put yourself in the other person's shoes and consider how the event may not be working.
"That person is expressing that it is not about spending less time with you or not being appreciative. But their lives are changing, things are becoming difficult, and they can't keep up with the tradition."
Change takes planning: Making major changes for holidays this month is too late, said Michael Sannito, chief of behavioral medicine at the OU Physicians Family Medical Clinic.
Take a time out for this season and start in January thinking about options.
"I like to think of it as cruise-ship psychology," he said. "Ships make small in-course directional changes and can make big left turns of 300 miles and no one feels it. So, from February through November, decide you are going to talk every now and then about rituals around the holidays."
Have an open mind.
"You may find 15 different expectations, and you can create something to meet everyone's needs," Sannito said. "Avoid having something people do out of an obligatory stance. Don't force it. Don't draw a line in the sand."
Some families aren't healthy, and traditions may amplify the dysfunction.
So set ground rules, such as avoiding talk of politics or leaving at a certain time.
"Assess what you are getting out of the routine," Miller-Cribbs said. "If it's torture, why are you doing it?"
All's well that ends well: Fortunately, my mom says moving the dinner was a good decision.
It took away the stress of cooking and cleaning, allowing for more time with family members and playing with grandchildren.
Change is hard, as the saying goes.
But finding a common ground in new rituals can potentially create fond memories.
Original Print Headline: Changing traditions takes finesse