Parenting: Holiday Time-Out

December 1, 2010

A friend of mine shared some bad news recently. His grandmother died, which struck a sad note with many of us in the studio because she was well-known in our little community for sending in an overly generous collection of home-made holiday cookies each December, which the entire morning news crew happily devoured. She was the sort of person who is immediately missed for her graciousness and kindness even to those she knew only a little.

I have another friend who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which, as anyone who knows anything about cancer is aware, can be a particularly tough opponent. Suddenly, his family has been put into the unexpected position of a life immersed with far more meaning than most of us would desire, a focus on the day to day, rather than year to year.

It's a different story for a neighbor of mine who went in for an appendectomy (hardly the usual for a 38-year-old guy) and came out with an accidentally discovered case of liver cancer. I recently attended his 40th birthday party, a celebration of unusual merit, as we all learned that the treatment has worked well and in what has to be considered one of the luckiest twists any of us will ever know, a freak visit to the hospital and a freak diagnosis is apparently leading to what will be decades of time to reflect on the nature of fate and miracles.

In each of these affected families, the idea of a family holiday has no doubt assumed some extra significance. In this space today, I'm going to pose the argument that it ought to be that way for all of us.

Most of us work with relatively narrow focus on the average day. We tend to necessities. We pay the bills. We worry. There are reasons for all of this. As a matter of practicality day-to-day duties require our attention. For most of us, this is not sexy work, nor is it all that stimulating in terms of spirit or profundity. But this season, we have a choice. For those of us lucky enough to be getting a break from the mundane over the coming weeks, we have the holidays. In light of the above stories (and plenty of others I haven't included), I've gotten to thinking that families really ought to take a deep breath around now and then take a big time-out together; a time-out from the bustle, from the day-to-day, a time-out from troubles, from boredom, a time-out from our tendency to allow the less astounding aspects of day-to-day life to lead our life experience.

The chances are good that most of us will live to see plenty more of these celebratory communal holidays. The chances are also good that someone in each of our spheres of family and friendship has only one, or maybe few of them left. Since we can't predict who's got what number, why not play the odds smartly? Take time to turn off the clock that runs your life for a few hours, and allow yourself a break. If you're a parent, pay special attention to your kids this week. Play a few rounds of their favorite board game. Tell them stories of family lore. Talk about vacation memories, and lay the groundwork for your next adventure. Catch up on what's happening in their lives. Let them catch up on yours. Relax. Remember why you had kids. Enjoy each other.

Whatever your situation, I wish for you some happy memories this season, and memories of you in the minds of those you love the most.

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