Yes, boys and girls of all ages – it’s that time of year again!  That gift buying, budget crunching, emotionally testing time that challenges each of us in one way or another.  Many will rise to the challenge and leave the season behind with smiles and fond memories.  Some will not be so fortunate.  So, as my gift to you, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned  – as a wife, mother, single mom and soon-to-be step mother – that have helped me weather the winter storm with grace and a positive spirit.  Here goes…

1.  It truly is the thought that counts.  While we all love receiving (and giving) gifts at this time of year, many of us – especially in these financially difficult times – take account of our dwindled savings and wonder how we are going to make the holidays merry.  Well, I’ve learned that a gift from the heart means far more than some expensive item that will end up as closet storage.  Homemade gifts are wonderful.  Items that are meaningful, personal but inexpensive are nice, too.  And if there’s that one somewhat costly item you really want to get for that special person, then find a way to get it.  Forego those Starbuck’s coffees for a while (you’ll be amazed how quickly those $5 savings each day add up), do your manicures yourself, go to a cheaper place for your haircuts, cook at home more often.  You can do it if you try.  Ultimately, you will realize as you look around the room at the happy faces sharing conversation, food and the warmth of one another’s company – that is the true gift of the holidays.

2.  Decide early whose house you will spend the holidays at.  For those who are married or seriously involved, this can often be a quandary.  Get everyone on board sooner rather than later.  If there are choices to be made, I usually recommend rotating houses at the various holidays, i.e., if you are at his family’s house for Thanksgiving, spend Christmas at her house and vice-versa the following year.  If your families are close enough to combine celebrations, then that’s great!  But don’t leave this sort of a decision to the last minute.  It’s just too stressful.  Sometimes you can’t avoid pissing someone off because of the choices you make – well, hopefully they are mature enough to be able to talk it over with you and arrive at some sort of compromise or understanding.  If not, don’t let it ruin your holiday.  Ultimately, you have to make the decision that’s right for you and those closest to you.

3.  If you’re on the second or more time around in terms of your marriages or significant relationships, there may be kids involved in the mix – his and hers.  And exes.  And more than two households.  Hopefully, his kids like her and her kids like him.  If not, at least they behave and tolerate the situation when you are all together.  If they don’t, the parent of the offender needs to have a serious discussion with them before the holidays roll around and explain the need for them to be on their best behavior.  Exes, well, that’s another story.  If you’re lucky, they are accepting of your relationship with their ex-spouse and cooperative when it comes to the interpersonal dynamics involving the kids and so on.  If not, then your significant other must stand strong when it comes to the machinations and manipulations of their ex-spouse.  Often, especially if the ex doesn’t have a new relationship of their own, they will become bitter and undermining.  They’ll even attempt to use the kids as pawns in their little games to make their ex (and your current partner) as miserable as they are.  Don’t give in.  Pay attention to the relationship you are in, not the one you left.  If the ex is adversarial, then they may not participate in the holiday proceedings with you – period.  Ask the kids what they want to do for the various holidays.  They may have a preference for where they want to spend the time.  If it’s not going to be where you are spending the holiday, then make arrangements to have some time with the kids on or around that particular holiday.  And be sure you do it together – the kids and the ex need to understand that you are a couple, and where he goes she goes (and vice-versa).  Perhaps plan to have the kids with you on one holiday and give your ex the other.  If geography is an issue, you can always make a phone call to let them know you are thinking about them.  Hey, we live in a modern age – how about video chatting?  You need to set your priorities and stick to them.  The important people are the ones you intend to build the rest of your life with.  Live in the present with an eye toward the future.  Let the past stay where it is.

4.  Don’t be alone.  Some of us are not fortunate enough to have family or a significant other to spend the holidays with.  So, reach out to a friend, a neighbor, a member of your church or temple…but do reach out to someone.  This is the one time of year when it really is important to have that social contact that we were all meant to as human beings.  It is also the one time of year when most people are more than willing to share and lend a hand, a meal and companionship to those who need it.  So avail yourself of it and be a part of something during the holidays.  Don’t let pride stand in your way, either.  Trust me, you will be glad you made the effort.

Well, those are just the main points – I don’t want to carry on too long.  I hope they are helpful.  Whether you’re 9 or 90, I think there is something to be gleaned from the experiences I’ve shared.

I wish you all happy holidays, and a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!