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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
Nov/Dec 2006

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Holidays Revisited
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops

1. Holidays Revisited

With the winter holidays upon us, it is a natural time to revisit the traditions and rituals of our celebrations to examine whether they serve us or we serve them. According to research cited by the American Psychological Association, women report more holiday stress as they bear the role of “tradition keeper” and all the tasks that are added into already busy lives during this time of the year. Some of the holiday stress comes from the tyranny of “shoulds,” our unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations about the one, perfect way the holidays MUST be celebrated.

For example, one family celebrated Christmas Eve with a buffet of treats including sliced ham sandwiches. One of the younger generation, a new bride of several months, was hosting the crowd at her house for the first time. To prepare the ham, she cut the ham in half laying the two halves side by side in the roasting pan. Her puzzled husband asked why she did it that way instead of leaving it whole, “I don’t know, that’s the way my mom taught me.” When the guests arrived, the husband asked his mother-in-law who told him that that was the way her mother cooked the ham for Christmas each year. When Granny arrived, he asked her the reason for the tradition. “Well, when Grandpa and I were first married, we didn’t have a big baking pan so I had to cut the ham in half to fit it into the pan. A small example of a ritual that took on a life of its’ own.

Parties and Gatherings

Social rituals meet a basic human need; they give us positive ways of managing our social anxieties. We know in advance the structure of the event and therefore know how to act. We know that we go to Grandma’s for a New Year’s Day open house. We know that Aunt Lucy will bring her green bean casserole and Cousin Timmy bakes corn biscuits. We know when the New Year’s Day party starts and when it will end. The women will gather in the kitchen, the men will watch football in the family room, and the kids will play in the basement. Part of us wants everything to remain the same so that we know just what to do. However, change happens whether you direct or not. Perhaps there have been major changes in the family such as Grandpa dying and Grandma moving to a 55 or better condo, a place too small for the New Year’s gathering. Or maybe a wedding has brought new in-laws into the family. With babies arriving, people moving out of town, and some people preferring to take a year off to go to their neighborhood party, traditions need to be reexamined from time to time.

Are there holiday traditions that you need to reexamine because circumstances have changed? Are you and your loved ones and friends rigidly marching forward doing things the same way because you have always done it that way? It may be time to ask whether our customs and rituals serve us or do we serve them? Holiday stress may be a signal to recognize that old traditions may no longer make sense in terms of your current values, needs, or time management.

Gift Exchanges

One of the most stressful areas of holiday celebration is the time and money it takes to look for those perfect gifts. I always wonder what this time of the year would be like if a law was passed that no gifts could be exchanged.

Maybe we would spend more time with our families or take time off from work to relax instead of to shop.

But that would be unrealistic and bad for the retail businesses. So here are more practical tips in case you and yours are exploring cutting back on the commercialism of the season.

  • Limit the numbers and/or amount of your gifts. Some extended families pull names out of a hat for a secret Santa instead of everybody exchanging gift. Consider limiting gift giving to the children only, cousins giving to cousins, instead of all the grown ups giving to each other. Some families give small token gifts like stickers or candies for the first seven days of Hanukkah with a bigger gift on the last day. Similarly, little gifts could be tucked into compartments on an Advent calendar with one bigger gift opened on Christmas Day.

  • Give experiences instead of stuff. When our daughter was in grade school, we started picking a holiday play or concert to go to as a gift to ourselves ­ the gift of time together, appreciation and support of the arts, and the building of memories. If children are involved ask them what they want to do to celebrate. Our 3 year old grandson has entered the tradition with his interest in the Nutcracker Suite so he is taking us to the ballet. Kids can surprise you with the simplicity of their requests, like wanting to visit friends or drive through the neighborhood to see house decorations.

  • Teach your children the spirit of giving by contributions to charity. You could have the children collect their allowances to send to a favorite charity or you could adopt a family through your place of worship. Traditions have to be meaningful and authentic to your values for them to model for children. When our daughter was growing up, her parents did so much volunteer work throughout the year with educational programs in schools and places of worship that we chose to take time off to spend family time from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s week.

  • Have a cut-off age for gift giving to the children in the extended family, perhaps age six or twelve. Have the children plan, shop for, and wrap gifts for the other children.

  • Give the gift of time in the form of coupons for service such as, “Clean your house,” “One afternoon of baby sitting,” or for an experience such as, “A trip with Grandpa to a baseball game.”

  • Give handmade gifts such as memory books of the year’s experiences. Be sure to start early in the summer working on these kind of time-intensive gifts so that you are not pulling all nighters during this busy time.

Food and Beverages

A very basic way that people welcome others is to offer them food and drink. However, some of the traditional holiday fare of heavy gravies and rich baked goods don’t fit with goals of healthy eating. Think of offering easy-to-prepare healthy snacks like veggies and lower fat dip.

  • Similarly, switch from serving rich baked goods to serving fresh fruit in an attractive bowl carved out of a watermelon. You will save yourself pre-holiday pressure and help your guests eat healthy.

  • When you are a guest, make your selections carefully. Enjoy small quantities of your favorite foods and beverages. If you feel you have overeaten, cut back the next day on your regular meals and listen to your body. Sometimes the stuffed, day after feeling is your body’s way to say, "We’ve had enough. Be good to us.”

  • Go easy on the alcoholic beverages especially when you have been too busy and stressed to eat your regular meals. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly on an empty stomach. Don’t try to match drinks with the men at the party. Men and women feel the effects of alcohol differently. That is because women absorb alcohol in their stomachs before it gets broken down by stomach acid and men absorb alcohol in the intestines after the stomach acids have broken it down somewhat. A 125 pound woman reach a legally impaired level between two and three drinks (a drink being a 5 ½ ounce glass of wine, a mixed drink with 1 ounce of hard l iquor, or one 12 ounce beer) depending on how quickly she drinks them and whether or not she has food in her stomach to slow down the absorption.

One drink is not always one drink. Wine glasses are now 12 ounces compared to the previously standard 5 ½ ounces. The idea is to pour the normal amount of wine into the larger glass to show off the color and allow the wine to breathe but some people fill up the glass counting it as “just one drink” and thinking they can drive safely. Be cautious about mixed drinks, like Margaritas, which are the equivalent of three drinks containing an ounce of one liquor, ½ ounce of another, and one ounce of a third.

Dealing with Losses at a Festive Time

While the Hallmark cards have everyone gathered about the hearth having a great time, they don’t usually depict a group that suffered the loss of a family member during the year. Traditions may no longer make sense in terms of that loss, especially for the first year of all the family gatherings and holidays. The dilemma is to how acknowledge the loss in ways that are respectful without feeling heavy. One family set a place for the deceased the first set of winter holidays after his death. Another decided to play a deceased child’s favorite party game in his honor. Another decided to look at old home movies and reminisce about the deceased’s place in the family. Especially difficult losses are losses that don’t follow the natural course of events, for example when a child dies or a couple separates.

One of the ways to deal with loss is to give to someone else. Altruism distracts us from our problems and gives us perspective on the universality of suffering. But timing is crucial. Too fresh from the loss and you won’t have any energy available to give to others. It is alright to be self-focused until you have had the time to grieve the loss. Then it will feel right to get out of your pain and into empathy for others.

It is a judgment call when to suspend rituals for a year and then how to reexamine whether to bring them back the next year. Following the normal routine may bring comfort or it may make things very painful. I grew up celebrating the Winter Solstice which was also the day of my parents’ wedding anniversary. My dad said of the day, “December 21st is a good day for a wedding anniversary. It’s the longest night of the year.” The first Christmas following my mother’s death in August, my father flew to my home on December 21 to celebrate the holidays with my family. When I picked him up at the airport, I said, “longest night, huh?” He smiled and said, “It’s a good day for a wedding anniversary.” So that became our new ritual. I would greet him when he arrived by acknowledging the passing of their anniversary.

Other losses make holiday celebrations temporarily meaningless. Job losses, house fires, floods, etc. can cause one family to stop in their tracks and to struggle through the holidays just putting one foot in front of the other while another family may chose to find a way to put the problems aside and find some comfort in the familiar pattern of one of their cherished traditions. There are no right answers, but talking about what feels right for the year of the crisis and then what feels right afterwards leads to thoughtful decisions that make sense instead of blindly following a tradition that no one wants to do.


Happy winter holidays! Slow down, enjoy, and make your traditions serve you.

Susan Robison

2. BossWoman coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.

If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.

She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don’t work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

I have booked a number of work/life balance workshops for the spring that are not open to the public. Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.

Title: “Staying Sane in Insane Places: Managing Diverse Faculty
Responsibilities with Clarity, Balance and Ease.”
Date: February 14 & 15, 2007;
Place: University of Virginia, Charlotte, VA

Title: “Staying Sane in Insane Places:
Doing Well While Doing Good and "Mistake-Proof Your Career"
Date: April 14, 2007
Place: Lily East Conference On Teaching and Excellence;
University of Delaware Conference Center

Title: “Mistake-Proof Your Career
Date: June 1, 2007
Place: Women in Science Leadership Conference;
University of Maryland Baltimore County

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BossWoman e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

© Copyright 2006 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

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