The Holiday Season is the time we are supposed to enjoy each other’s company, celebrate family, and do kind things for those around us. It’s the time we pay attention to the needs of others, look for ways to serve, and remember the finer points of humanity. Unfortunately, the material nature of gift-giving, the stress of the holiday rush, and the anticipation and act of spending time with family when we may have a strained relationship with them brings out the worst in many of us. Terms like “Monsters-in-Law”, “Evil stepmother”, “Spoiled Children”, and many others take on a new meaning during the most joyous time of the year. Holidays are awesome, but not without effort and stress.
As you return home to visit your parents, remember that your parents raised you to be self-sufficient, independent, and able to take care of your own family. But in doing so, they often took care of you, your dirty laundry, unmade bed and dishes. Partly to train you what right looked like, but also because of their own standards of cleanliness and how they wanted their house to look. I remember my own bed as a teenager miraculously being made when I got home from school, or the laundry I started but never finished being folded neatly on top of that made bed.
Since you left home, your parents got older, moved on to other responsibilities, and hoped that you had learned from your example and were taking care of the same things for yourself and your own family. Having raised you, they no longer have the obligation and energy to coddle you like they did.
Let me make a few suggestions to make the holidays go smoother, and unburden your hosts, neighbors, friends, and even store clerks at a time when all should find some level of holiday joy.
- Leave things better than you found them. I have a friend who picks up his and other trash as he leaves the movie theater. His kids ask him why he does it, since they have workers there to do that sort of thing. His response is always “they don’t work for me. They work for the slobs who are unwilling to pick up after themselves.”
- Do not expect your mom to make your bed anymore. In fact, consider it like a hotel and ask yourself if you want to sleep on the dirty sheets of the previous guest. If the answer is “no”, then don’t leave the changing of the bedding for your host. If you think they’ll be offended, then at least ask them if they want the bed made or stripped.
- If you borrow a car, always return it with more gas than when it was given to you. If you cannot afford to do so, then don’t borrow the car. Or thank them profusely. Never assume they filled it up for you to borrow, and that it was somehow owed to you. See #1 above.
- At least offer to do the dishes, with the intent of doing so. Some people don’t allow others in their kitchen (which is silly), but at least express gratitude for the meal and a desire to help in some way to clean up. And not after the dishes are done.
- Open the door for ladies. Frankly, be ready to hold the door for anyone. In a mall of frantic shoppers trying to find that last gift, this could make the difference between a terrible day with 50,000 of your best friends vying for that same gift, and an overall enjoyable experience.
- Go out of your way to thank others. At the register, at the neighbor’s Christmas Party, on Christmas morning, or whenever someone does even the smallest act of service for you. Just because it may be their job does not mean you are ‘owed’ any of their help.
- If someone deserves a compliment, give it to them. This may feel awkward at first, especially towards a stranger, but get over it and enjoy it. If a person looks nice, let them know. If someone does a good job, let them know. If your mother does sneak into your room at her house and makes your bed perfectly, let her know how nice it looks.
- Never use a name you would not use in front of your mother. And if your mother swears like a sailor, think of another person who does not speak in a demeaning or ugly way towards anyone, even if they are not there.
- Expect that it is your job. There is no mythical ‘somebody’ that is going to pick up after you, even if your mother did so for 18 years while you lived at home and now find yourself back in that comfortable setting. Your mother is doing plenty else right now without having you bring back work to her house.
- You are never too important, too good, too famous, or too old to follow these rules. No amount of money or length of title allows you to be a jerk.
I said earlier that this has to do with the holidays, but, like every act of kindness we seek during the holidays, they apply for the entire year. Bottom line, be a good house guest. Be a good patron. Be a good family member. Be a good person. Don’t talk politics, national or family, if it is going to ruin the visit. Don’t ruin a good holiday by forgetting the purpose of the holiday, by getting lost in the grind. Show some manners. And then carry those same manners into the new year.