My family has Christmas traditions. For 29 years, since Big Daddy and I were married, we sleep under the tree the night we decorate it, to symbolize that family is our greatest gift. (Not actually UNDER the tree, but that’s a funny visual!) As our family grew, we all six slept under the tree. Now it’s just back to the two of us. Growing up, I had the same breakfast every Christmas of my life, and my kids have grown up having that same breakfast. Last year, we moved our family Christmas celebration to Christmas Eve, and at the insistence of my kids, for dinner we still have Christmas breakfast. My tree is covered in ornaments collected over the last 29 years. I still do stockings for my grown kids. I take goodie plates to my neighbors. I like tradition. But sometimes we have to change them or let them go.
Sometimes we have unknown traditions. Unhealthy traditions that we need to stop passing down. Traditions of sweeping conflict under the rug and never resolving issues, traditions of arguing at full volume, traditions of proving your point at any cost. We get our tools for life from our models. This could be parents, grandparents, friends, and/or others that have had an impact on us. We observe and learn without even realizing it. A teenage client said to me, “I have no idea how normal families interact with each other.” She said that she had no models in her life of relationships where people can disagree peacefully, can argue fairly or were effective at conflict resolution. Her parents are giving her tools, but they aren’t the best tools for the job.
I’m the queen of improvisation. If I can’t find a hammer, I use the heel of my shoe, a book or the side of a pair of pliers. Am I the only one? When I don’t have the right tool, I start trying out all kinds of things to see if they are effective. This is what we do emotionally as well. If we don’t have the right tool, we start trying out all kinds of things to see if it’s effective. If we need conflict resolution, we probably try the tool we have first. For example if we always saw one of our parents shut down during an argument we do that, but if that doesn’t work we then start grabbing other things like anger or manipulation or dominance to see if they are effective.
Recently someone told me that she was on the toilet and realized there was no toilet paper. She asked her 2 year old to get her a roll. The little one came back first with a roll of paper towels. Her mom showed her the toilet paper roll and asked her to try again. This time she brought back a stack of napkins. All in the ballpark. All will get the job done, but not the best tool for the job. I do that sometimes. I get in the ballpark, but instead of a bat I’m trying to use a rolling pin to hit the ball. It might hit the ball, but not as effectively as a bat would.
Here’s my question: What tools are you passing down to those you impact? and What tools/traditions do you need to get rid of and replace with something new? When you gather with your tribe this holiday season, notice your emotional traditions. Are they effective? If not, stop. Make a change. Start a new tradition that can have an impact on generations. Actually, I know my daughters have both used shoes for hammers…maybe there is still hope for the G’babies.
Be kind, be grateful, be courageous.