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An Ex-Soap Opera Writer's Take on Holiday Drama

Dena Higley, former head writer of 'Days of Our Lives' and 'One Life to Live,' and now author of 'Momaholic: Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent,' offers a one-word coping tip: dilute.

By Dena Higley

Dilute Your Holidays. It’s Not What You Think.

So much has been written about the stress of the holiday season.  So much advice has been given. Avoid parking lots on Christmas Eve, don’t break the bank buying gifts, remember the “reason for the season”. The frenetic pace of those four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas grows faster and faster every year.  I swear this year it seemed like there were only four days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Thank Baby Jesus for the internet.  No more pushing and shoving at the mall for me.  No long lines at the post office.  Sending the perfect gift to a loved one is just a couple of mouse clicks away. 

I love the decorating and the baking and the fact that the kids are home.  Sure, it’s all a little tiring but I look around and see mostly sane people managing the madness and enjoying a fair amount of spiked eggnog.  Let’s face it, it’s a great time of year.  When else do you hear Nat King Cole, Andy Williams and Bing Crosby on the radio?

But there is a stressor that creeps up on us - one toxic and powerful enough to destroy the holiday spirit no matter how many sugar plums have been dancing in our heads.  What is this potential atom bomb? Family.

Yes, we love our families … mostly. We love all of them - well, most of them.  And the holidays wouldn’t be complete without gathering together with grandparents, nephews, aunts, second cousins and scarfing down massive amounts of mashed potatoes and bean casserole. 

But the saying is, 'you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.'  And that truth is never more apparent than at Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

There we are, all jammed in Aunt Liliian’s house watching football and snacking so violently that when we are called to the dinner table we have nowhere to put the food.  We’re stuffed.  It’s around the table that the stage is set for the beginning of World War III.

What is it about us that makes us say the stupidest things to our family members?  Phrases like: Don’t worry, I like my turkey dry. Or … I see you still haven’t taken the baby weight off.  Or … You know the street infrastructure is inadequate for the number of houses up here; if a fire starts we don’t stand a chance. You’re baby doesn’t seem to be talking very much; maybe you should get him tested .... There’s tofu in the salad? Oh, that’s why I’m gagging.

Boundaries are crossed, wounds inflicted and it’s not long before the whole mess devolves into a huge argument. 

But there is a way to avoid all these horrible moments. It’s a little trick called diluting.  I make sure to invite, not just family members, but friends I refer to as buffers.  When you get enough buffers in the room it dilutes the tension.  The grudges and jealousies stay buried.  Everyone stays on their best behavior. If you want to assure yourself of a wonderful, stress free holiday, be sure you have enough gravy, whipped cream… and buffers and your Christmas is sure to be merry.

Dena Higley is author of Momaholic: Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent and recovering helicopter mom. An Emmy award-winning writer, she has been the head writer for Days of Our Lives and One Life to Live and is a playwright in Glendale, CA. She blogs at http://momskidslove.wordpress.com/

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