The Key to Really Good Relationships (When Winter Brings You Back Inside)

The [forced] time together has just moved past the 9-month mark. Summer weather gave us the chance to get a little more space from each other, but now that colder weather is back, we’re all back inside and many people are struggling in their relationships.

Though we are social creatures, we don’t really do relationships all that well. Think about it: when things are going well, relationships seem to thrive. But when we get stressed by something like today’s pandemic, our worst behaviors come out, putting strain on every relationship we have. I don’t think it’s uncommon to observe that time spent with each other can start to look and sound more like professional wrestling than a loving household.

So, knowing winter will keep many of us in a tighter space with each other for the next several months, how do we relish our relationships instead of retreat from them? As a coach and a passionate believer in the power of relationships, here are four ideas to building and sustaining great relationships.

  1. Manage your emotions. The key to any great relationships is being able to stay calm even when situations around you are aggravating, frustrating or even irritating. Though you can’t control every situation or other people, you must be able to control and manage yourself. Staying calm lets you to access your best thinking and helps you see things more clearly because you’re not automatically looking for a fight. When you’re in that calmer frame of mind, the small things don’t get to you and the big things seem more manageable because you can sort through them and develop options to solve them. We find the best way to manage your emotions really starts with understanding the things or people that trigger your anger, fear, anxiety or frustration, among others. We call these unproductive emotions. Then, develop a particular technique to stay calm when confronted by these triggers, like focused breathing, writing in a gratitude journal, chatting with a friend, reading something inspirational or spending time with a hobby. These are distraction techniques that help you to not react to the trigger. Being aware of the trigger and then having a plan to deal with it is a great way to start managing your emotions.
  2. Tell the truth. All great relationships require a solid foundation – trust. Trust is built by listening to each other, showing mutual respect, being considerate, being dependable and being supportive. And when you have trust in a relationship, the people involved are able to talk to each other to do more of what works and improve the things that don’t work well. As a suggestion, have a conversation with those you are in relationship with and assess the level of trust in the relationship. Discuss ways to increase it to build a stronger foundation and a more lasting relationship. Remember to manage your emotions so you can stay calm and present in your conversations.
  3. Help others be their best selves. So many relationships require each other to be who the other needs them to be – not who they are. To be in a real relationship with someone is to want to help them discover, develop and live their potential – to find their way, to be who they really are and to live their best life. This can’t happen if we continually direct or control them into our version of a great life for them. I have realized in my many years of coaching and my own self-discovery process that finding my way is up to me but getting support from those who care about me is essential. Their support helps me stay focused and encouraged because the process of being yourself in a world that is so quick to tell you who to be is hard work. Knowing we have people who care about us encouraging, guiding and supporting builds a relationship.
  4. Always be kind. You don’t have to agree with each other to be in a good relationship, but how you disagree is what builds or destroys the relationship. The one clear rule that belongs in a relationship is to always be kind. Be kind in how you act and in what you say. Even difficult news is better received when it is delivered with kindness. Kindness is about the feelings behind the interaction. It is possible to be disappointed with a friend, client or partner and share that disappointment in a loving and kind way. After all, you are likely disappointed with a behavior or an action, not with the person. Without kindness, you can unintentionally trigger each other, launching into a battle of unproductive emotions. 

Relationships don’t have to be a challenge, despite what we’ve seen in movies and tv shows. Turn off the drama and focus on building or rebuilding the important relationships in your life. They start with you. They need you to be able to manage your emotions, tell the truth, be kind and support others. As you do this, others will learn, follow and return the behaviors.

The new year is just around the corner. This is a perfect time to rebuild or repair some damaged relationships that may have been a casualty of the election, or of being quarantined for the past few months. Regardless, the greatest gift in life is the gift of relationships. But like everything that is really valuable, they take work and effort. What helps in this is understanding what to do and how to do it. From there, all things are possible.  

Take Action
Think about the people you have a relationship with. Choose one where the relationship is not where you’d like it to be. Visualize how you want the relationship to be and do the following:

  1. Get calm by managing your emotions. What emotions are you feeling when it comes to that relationship? What is triggering those emotions? Are they productive or unproductive?
  2. Assess the level of trust and your behavior in the relationship. It’s important to remember that there are two parts to every story, and the same goes for relationships. Be aware of your role and behavior in the relationship, and be honest with yourself. What’s working? What’s not working?
  3. In a loving and kind way, invite the other person to rebuild or repair the relationship by sharing the work you’ve done so far to identify areas that are working well and areas that could be better. Engage in a conversation, not an argument. Manage your emotions.

By following these steps, you’ll see the quality of life improve for both of you.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Don’t Go Back to Normal. Instead, Focus on Becoming Better

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How Managers and Leaders Can Create [Workplace] Calm After the Storm

There is no doubt that this past election created a storm. Raging tempers, severed relationships and extreme emotions have marked this period both in and out of the workplace. Add to it the tensions around protests for racial equality, a raging coronavirus and the destructive impact of nature’s storms and wildfires and it’s easy to see that anyone – regardless of their level at your organization – is at their breaking point.

What we all desperately need is calm after all this turbulence. Our best thinking leads to our best solutions, but we can only get there when we are calm. Being calm unclouds the mind, which lets us be present enough to wisely understand our situations and identify meaningful responses. Most often, this is done by engaging productively with others. After all, raised tempers encourage reacting not responding.

Creating organizational calm may seem foreign or even out of reach at the moment. But we can’t just wish for calm or less turbulence; we need to create an intentional plan to get ourselves free of the heaviness of this past year, and it starts from the top down. Today’s leaders can be ready to help their organizations successfully learn to access a place of calm once they figure out how to do it for themselves, first. Here are some ideas how:

  1. Be a role model. Your teams watch you and how you respond. As you go, so do they. Use this moment to develop your mindfulness practice, a way to stay calm on the inside regardless of the noise and distractions on the outside. Developing a mindfulness practice includes making time each day to calm your body, quiet your mind and open your heart. This can include taking time to meditate, reflect, journal or just sit quietly. When this becomes part of your day, it inspires a greater sense of inner calm. Without making the intentional effort to develop the internal stamina to show up wisely, compassionately and intentionally, it’s easy to get caught in the emotional reactions of today’s challenging situations. When you do this, you miss the opportunity to engage and inspire others to work toward successful outcomes.
  2. Understand your employees’ stress level. As with any change or period of stress, it is important to be more tuned in to what is going on with your employees. Consider increasing the frequency and type of contact you have with each employee to better understand what is going on with each of them. During these touch points, ask more direct questions about their stress and anxiety levels, and watch and listen for challenging, distracted or destructive behaviors. This type of connection plays a critical role in giving you accurate insight into where your employees are and it will therefore guide you in knowing how to help (or if you need to get them help). This might seem like something else added to your plate, but when you make this an intentional practice, it becomes second nature and helps you become a better manager, too.
  3. Help or get them help. Offer some of your own experiences in your efforts to stay calm to help guide them in a direction that works best for them. It could be taking a greater number of short breaks, writing lines in a gratitude journal, increasing exercise or staying in touch with people they care about. Sharing your approach can give your team ideas to consider and try. After all, the ability to be responsive instead of reactive is their responsibility. Separately, be aware of what mental health support options are available if any of your team needs professional help to handle today’s storms. Ensure that you support their self-care and respect that this moment in history is exceptionally demanding.

Though storms will always be part of our days, this seems to be a particularly complicated moment. For many, this may be what tips them over the edge, amplifying their feelings of anxiety, fear, concern and distress.

Take Action
So ask yourself: what can you do as a leader at your organization to ensure the wellbeing of each of your employees is met? Consider how you can help them help themselves to stay calm in any storm, whether it’s personal or professional.

A little calm goes a long way.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 4 Things Managers Can Do to Help their WFH Employees Celebrate the Holidays

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Seeing Through the Fog

Yes, it has been difficult to imagine what next week will look like, let alone thinking about a new year. So how do we start to focus on rebuilding and rethinking what we want to accomplish, achieve or create in 2021?

Visualize.

Visualization is the process of picturing what you want. The ability to visualize helps create clarity. Stephen Covey shared in Habit #2 of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end in mind.” Getting clear about what you want or what success means to you is a key part of building a plan and achieving it.

But how can you get clear when your world is still so covered in so much uncertainty by the unresolved pandemic? Here is where another great coaching skill can serve you well – imagining.

Imagining is the process of allowing yourself to create, dream or invent whatever you want. It has no regard to what is currently possible, ignoring any restrictions or unknown factors. It simply allows you to focus on what you truly want to be, achieve, etc.

Think about it this way: you are walking along a beach and you see something shiny. You reach down to pick it up and realize it is an old lamp. You rub it to see the exterior more clearly and a genie appears. The genie offers you one wish.

So now ask yourself: if you could have whatever you want, what would it be? (This is a great activity for a family, a couple or a workplace team, as well.)

Imagining is important for two reasons.

First, it reminds you that no matter how tough things are, you are still the creator of your life. Though you may have to revise some of your imagined ideas when it comes time to implementation, you still have more control over this process than the fog makes you think. The fog robs you of your ability to feel empowered, engaged and in control, taking away your energy. With no energy and a feeling of no control, it limits your ability to dream, stay focused and achieve the things that matter. The fog makes you give up.

Second, imagining gets you excited. When things are dark, obscure and uncertain, imagining a new beginning, a better outcome or even a new direction amplifies your energy. You get charged up and it inspires a feeling that all (or at least more) things are possible. That energy is necessary to see through the fog so you can start building your plan to achieve what you want.

Take Action
Seeing through the fog is your key to landing on your feet and building something great in 2021. This starts now. You’ve spent enough time in the fog. Now it’s time to have a strategy and a plan to see through it to a new, better and healthier year. Visualize what you want. Imagine it’s possible. And with that clarity, back into the things you can start today that will get you moving and achieving.

A year from now, you will look back at this moment and feel energized that no matter what work or life sends, you have the tools to see your way through it to a place that matters to you.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Ready or Not, 2021, Here We Come!

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3 Ways to Help Your Team Start 2021 Strong and Focused

A new year is associated with so many good things. It’s a chance to start fresh. It’s a chance to try something new. It’s a chance to identify what could be better and create a plan to make it happen. And that’s what so many of us will be doing as we approach the countdown on December 31, ready to ring in 2021 with welcome arms.

After all, 2020 was certainly filled with some unique challenges. A variety of natural disasters, weather, a hostile election year and, to top it all off, COVID-19, which was not only a challenge in itself, but the ramifications it created sent many companies reeling.

So how can you inspire the fresh start feeling of a new year with your employees when 2021 will still reek of the challenges from 2020?

It’s actually pretty easy: relationships.

Relationships are the driver of employee engagement as employees want and need connection, support and guidance from their managers and their peers. If you could only focus on one thing in 2021, make it relationships.

So, as a new year welcomes you and your team to the workplace – in whatever way work is done – here are three relationship-focused things you can do to help your employees (and you) start your year off strong, focused and engaged.

1. Reconnect personally with your team. Make it a point to really get to know your employees. To effectively manage and coach your employees, it is important to know their strengths, interests and values. It is important to know what engages and disengages them about their jobs and the organization. It is critical to know how they best communicate and learn, and what are their most and least favorite aspects of their jobs.

Another element is to get to know them outside of work – what are their hobbies? How is their family? Is there anything they’re worried about? Are they struggling with anything? Is there anything you can do to help? Though some employees may prefer not to share too much personal information, the fact that you asked goes a long way, especially now when so many people may be grappling with challenges of COVID-19, like foreclosures, concern for high-risk family members or access to enough food, to name a few. Gather important information about each of your employees to understand them better and to know how to best connect with them and coach them. Employees want time with their managers – use this increased time to get to know them and to develop a plan to connect with them more effectively going forward.

Remember: people quit people before they quite companies.

2. Include your team in creating shared goals. Goals are important. They provide direction, clarity and focus. And by including employees in the creation of goals, or more specifically team goals, they feel more included, valued and part of the organization. They know you are interested in what they think. A workplace culture that asks employees for input not only benefits from greater employee loyalty, but also from expanded ideas that come from empowering and expecting employees to actively think throughout their days. An added bonus: those employees share their working experience with others, attracting other top talent and top performers to join your team (a huge benefit since networking will look drastically different as we all navigate the continued effects of COVID-19 on how we do business).

3. Commit to sharing more performance information. You want your employees to be more focused and engaged, but few feel that way when they work in the dark. They can’t connect their work to its impact or value with information about why they’re doing what they’re doing isn’t made clear. By improving your relationship with your employees, you create the space to have more candid and honest conversations about performance. Now, feedback is welcomed as it is delivered from a place of care, support and guidance, instead of reprimand. Invoive employees in creating their own performance expectations that help them amplify their strengths and connect with areas that interest and excite them. Again, these are things you don’t know if you have not first taken the time or made the effort to better understand each employee. An added bonus: employees take ownership of things that benefit them and the organization. They learn and grow and the organization improves.

A recap:

  1. Reconnect personally with your team: What is one thing you can do to connect more personally with each member of your team?
  2. Include your team in creating shared goals for 2021: How will you involve your team in the creation of shared goals?
  3. Commit to sharing more performance information: What information will you share in 2021 and how will you share it?

Take Action
As the New Year approaches, commit to enhancing the relationships with your employees. It really all comes down to communication – both listening and talking. Ask questions, be supportive, engage them in organizational goals and share performance feedback more regularly. Observe, ask, listen and guide. That is what employees want from you. And, in return, they work hard, bring their best performance and stay loyal to the organization.

Start the new year off strong. Make relationships your priority.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How To Keep Your Team Energized When Some Now Work Remotely

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10 Ways to Make a Zoomtastic Holiday

Face it. This year will likely not have many of the face-to-face holiday events that generally punctuate this time of year. The caroling, the office parties, the family reunions, the open houses – all will be reduced or postponed.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great holiday. It just means you will have to see and do things differently.

This may be the biggest challenge for so many because it’s hard to see things differently. We get connected to our habits and traditions, even the outdated and unhappy ones. Sometimes doing what we know (even when it is not our favorite) seems to be preferable over doing something different.

But I’m going to challenge that perspective. COVID-19 showed us we can shift and accommodate to new things, different things and change (in general). Sometimes, we need a hard lesson to show us we are more capable than we think.

Ok, so the face-to-face events can’t happen. What could we consider doing instead that will still provide the connection, celebration and fun that we associate with the holidays?

For purposes of this post, let’s say your method to connect is through Zoom or other similar technology. Here are some out-of-the-box ideas you can consider to help you still celebrate from a distance.

  1. Holiday ZoomMaskathon. Since masks are one of the best ways to keep ourselves safe, why not have a holiday mask competition? Create some guidelines and share them with your family and friends. It could be a neighborhood block party or a holiday open house that has everyone showing up with their best holiday mask (with proper social distancing if on-site) or modeled effectively if hosting via Zoom. Have all participants share their top 3 choices for best mask. The host tabulates the scores and awards the prizes.
  2. ZoomTrim – Decorating or trimming a Christmas tree is frequently a time when neighbors and family assemble to celebrate and decorate together. Get a tripod and focus your phone or camera on the tree as you and the family do the decoration. Spend 10 or 15 minutes visiting and getting decorating advice from those you are sharing time with. Have them guide where to hang ornaments or to place decorations to help them feel part of the celebration and to have their contribution in your decorating.
  3. ZoomSong – The holidays are famous for the music. Have your family Zoom your friends and share a carol / holiday sing-along. Invite your friends – both local and distant – to share their favorite seasonal song(s) and carol back.
  4. ZoomView – Create a neighborhood or family holiday Zoom background competition (the background that shows when you are on Zoom). Give a prize for the most creative, most festive, most family involved or other category that encourages great creativity.
  5. ZoomTour – We spend time and care decorating our houses for the holidays, both inside and out. Conduct a virtual tour to walk family and friends through the inside and outside of the house to share your decorations, stories and how you are celebrating. Take a video of the tour and post it to your preferred social media channel to share your decorations with all of your family and friends.
  6. Zoomoration – Holiday pastries, particularly holiday cookies, are a tradition for many. Zoomoration is a Zoom cookie decorating call where all participants decorate cookies, tell stories, sing carols and chat, just like the way you would if you were face-to-face.
  7. ZoomRekindle – Zoom gives you the ability to engage with those you are rarely able to see right now because they live across town, across the country or across the world. Set up a Rekindle date each week to reconnect with those from different points in your life – to share how you and your family have done in 2020 and how you are celebrating the holidays.
  8. ZoomWalk – Walk through your neighborhood while connected to Zoom to share your neighborhood’s lights and decorations. Imagine that you are walking in person with those on the Zoom call, chatting about what you see, what they make you think of and how they make you feel.
  9. ZoomkeSwap – Many organizations and families host a Yankee Swap each year. Assign a number to every person participating and one by one, in order, each person can take an existing opened gift or open a new one. Done remotely, a host can assemble all of the gifts and do as each person requests – to keep an existing gift or have the host open something new. At the end, the host sends gifts to each participant. These could be done as gift cards or other electronic gifts to make it easy to share.
  10. StoryZoom – Like a story room, set up a time to share story of a tradition or holiday experience you remember, including how you celebrate, why and who is generally at your celebrations. Appreciate the wide variety of traditions and ways to celebrate. This could also be a great event for families with small children who would love to hear their grandparents read Christmas stories, like The Night Before Christmas or The Polar Express.

Which of these ideas inspired you or your family? See the opportunity to create new traditions because of the significant advancements in technology that allow us to still connect with those we love, even when we can’t be together.

Don’t let the COVID interruption dampen your celebration or holiday spirit. Focus on the feelings behind the events you used to do and replace them with new ways to evoke the same or similar feelings. The sky is the limit. Invent something new, fun and different. In the process, you may find better and more amazing traditions that will stay with you going forward.

Take Action
Involve your friends and family in ways to connect remotely that allow you to still experience the feelings of the holiday season. You will be surprised how capable you are at building something new when you focus on the feelings behind the actions. Brainstorm ideas and try them out. The only rules? Stay safe and have fun. 

By Jay Forte

This article also appeared on Thrive Global on November 17, 2020.

Consider reading Make The Moments Count

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4 Things Managers Can Do to Help their WFH Employees Celebrate the Holidays

There was a time when work would slow down so the holiday season could gear up. The regular workday gave way to office parties, vacation time and a more relaxed and congenial pace, with more impromptu employee gatherings. Spending more personal and relaxed time in the workplace around the holidays does wonders for employees’ sense of team and organization inclusion.

For many organizations, that is now a thing of the past. But the benefits of shifting from work to celebration are significant and are part of how an organization unites itself to stay energized and get ready for the start of a new year.

Since celebrating is important and its approach will be different this year, many employees will need help recreating the office celebration feelings in their WFH situations. This will require managers to help create the shift to holiday thinking, especially because employees are remote.

Here are 4 ideas to consider and try.

  1. Help employees create a gradual work slowdown as the holidays approach. Encourage employees to sign off earlier each day as the holiday approaches. Some organizations gave their employees a free vacation day to take care of the holiday preparation or to just step into the holidays in a less rushed and stressed way. Help them decide how to use that time to celebrate with other company employees or with their families. Many employees have actually worked more and longer in the pandemic. Getting them to shift out of work mode in favor or holiday and celebration mode may take some consistent guidance.  
  2. Create activities to replace the impromptu interactions that used to take place in the workplace around the holidays. Plan team activities, such as holiday Zoom background competitions, creating holiday team videos, sharing holiday tradition stories and other things that employees would do had they been still on-site. Give them a list of options to help them use their earlier shutdown time to shift to holiday preparation and celebrations.
  3. Have a recurring discussion about how the employee and his/her family are preparing for the holidays. Be interested in the details of their holiday prep and encourage them to sign off early and use the time to do things to build their holiday energy and spirit. By your interest and support, you encourage them develop a new sense of work and holiday balance.
  4. Share how you are creating time and space for celebration and holidays in your WFH approach. Seeing you doing and living the things you are guiding others to do, helps employees see that you are serious, and it gives them ideas in how to make this happen. Remember, this is new for most everyone. New things take time to try, adopt and embrace. Be a role model and employees will migrate faster to new behaviors.

Take Action
Your employees will likely need a little direction in how to shift from WFH to CFH (celebrate from home). So many of the WFH employees have gotten into a productive routine and shifting it once again, even for something like the holidays, can be a challenge. Be there to guide, support and encourage your teams to get into the holiday mood, even if they don’t have the normal workplace holiday events. (See our other ideas in how to celebrate the holidays when you employees are remote.) Not only will your employees have a better holiday, but they will come back to work recharged, energized and ready to respond to the next round of changes that now define how our workplace and world seem to move.  

By Jay Forte

This article appeared on Vistage in the Entrepreneurs and Small Business Network on November 11, 2020.

Consider reading Tips to Celebrate the Holidays When Your Staff is Remote

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How to Be Okay When You Are Not Okay

The holiday season brings out great emotions. The ones it is associated with most are joy and excitement. We see it in commercials and on ads, and we see it in our neighborhoods as people decorate their homes with festive lights. We hear it in the way people talk about their plans and activities. And we feel it when we see the first snow of the season, when we walk through a walkway that is perfectly lit with Christmas lights, when we hear about family celebrations and when your company starts decorating and planning events to celebrate the season (and the end of the year) with their employees.

But these are the productive emotions. The holiday season also brings out other emotions, like stress, sadness and loneliness.

Let me tell you a secret: it’s okay to not be okay.

Say that again, nice and loud: its ok to not be okay.

This year, it’s possible the unproductive emotions will impact the holidays. And it will be very easy to let those unproductive emotions move right in. After all, with COVID-19 completely changing our world over the past year, it’s hard not to throw your hands in the air when presented with something else that has (or will) change and screaming, “why not!?”

Holiday traditions, family gatherings, office parties, networking events, trips to visit Santa; it will be different, or may not happen at all.

I know many people are feeling sad or hurt or lonely. I know many people are upset about the changes to the holiday season this year. The traditions we’ve enjoyed in previous years, the feelings of comfort and security when surrounded by friends and family, the fun and excitement that radiates off kids who are visiting Santa – it will all change.

Things will feel different because it will be different.

Guidance we share with our clients is to feel every feeling and be intentional in WHY you feel it. This mindful approach helps you understand your feelings so you can more successfully deal with them. When you stay in hurt or tough feelings, they can take you down. Something we share with our clients is, “visit but don’t move in.”

Understand the emotions so you can deal with them. Then focus on the good, the great and the amazing that are also available when you choose to see it.

Visit your disappointment, frustration or aggravation with today’s situations, then move past them. Visit but don’t move in. I believe this is a mantra everyone should adopt when they feel strong unproductive emotions like sadness or frustration, and not just around the holidays.

So, be ok knowing you’re not ok this year. Give yourself some grace to feel the big emotions. Give yourself permission to be sad or lonely. Be intentional in your decision to be ok not being ok.

Then take a deep breath, find the good and make an intentional decision about what comes next.

Take Action
When you find yourself experiencing big emotions this year, remind yourself it’s ok to visit but don’t move in. Try setting a timer if you find it hard to get out of a funk. Let yourself feel the emotions, be present in them, but then challenge yourself to see the good.

After all, some days are great, others are not, but each one gives you the unique opportunity to make the next one better. When you take advantage of this, you not only benefit from making things better, but you are happier in whatever life sends your way because you intentionally focus on the positive instead of the negative. When you find yourself in negative emotions, remember, visit, but don’t move in.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Why Things Don’t Always Work Out

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Why Presence Really Matters Most This Year

Have you asked your kids what they want for Christmas yet? I admit, I started asking before Halloween. A part of me doesn’t want to worry about not getting something in time. But a big part of me used it as a distraction. When that Amazon holiday wish book arrived, I told my boys “Santa’s magazine is here!” and set them off to circle the things they wanted. It gave me 30 minutes of quiet without leaning on screen time.

Though they may have a wish list that is about 10 pages long, they know that Santa will only be able to bring them one thing. To my (honest) surprise, my boys didn’t argue or get upset. They sat quietly for a minute flipping through the pages, picked up a different color marker and circled one or two toys saying, “I’ll give mine to my brother instead… I think he’ll like this the best.”

Queue the proud mom moment.

I share this story with you because I think it illustrates a very important concept: presence is more valuable than presents.

This year, I think a lot of parents and grandparents and caregivers will feel a little guilty for not spending enough time with their kids. Trying to juggle all the responsibilities of life while also playing primary caregiver 24/7 is exhausting and, honestly, impossible. It’s hard not to feel like you haven’t done enough in some area of life as you finally lay down at night. So, I think people will spend big this year, giving kids exactly what they’ve asked for and then some. It will alleviate some of the guilt we feel that life has been so weird this year. So unpredictable. So, different.

But instead of worrying about the money, or worrying about buying the exact right gift, what if, instead, you created a gift of presence? Maybe it’s a movie night and you wrap a box of popcorn and a new DVD (or a picture of a new digital version of the movie). Maybe it’s a family campout and you wrap up the ingredients for smores. Maybe it’s a sleepover night and you create a pillow / blanket fort to sleep in.

In each of these gifts, you’re giving the gift of [your] presence. To be fully and completely tuned in to your kids. Whether it’s a group event or a single event for each kid to experience your presence individually, these are the things they’ll remember. They won’t remember the toy that broke on Christmas Day night, or the toys that didn’t have the batteries they needed when they unwrapped them.

They will remember how you showed up in a big way to make it the best holiday ever.

So how will you give the gift of presence this year?

Take Action
As you’re scouring the wish lists from your kids, try getting a little creative. If they ask for movies or books, how could you make it something you can do together? For example, if they ask for books, maybe you write and illustrate one together.

And get others involved! Ask friends and family members for their ideas to find ways to be more engaged and present in your kids’ lives without giving more toys and stuff.

Remember where the memories are made and traditions start.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading I’m Thankful For…

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I’m Thankful For…

Did your family have a tradition of sharing something they were thankful for before dinner was served on Thanksgiving? Mine did. As everyone got older, the things we were thankful for shifted. I remember as a young kid, I never knew what was the right thing to say, so I often just reiterated what people said before me. Thankful for family. Thankful for friends. Thankful for this wonderful meal we were about to eat.

As an adult, I find it hard to pick just one thing to share as my item I’m most thankful for, especially this year. My family. My family’s health. My health. Our home. The ability to put food on the table. The list goes on.

But my kids? They had no problem picking one thing.

My 4-year old shared he’s most thankful for “dump trucks!”

My almost 3-year old shared he’s most thankful for “the roaring T-rex!” (note: he doesn’t have this toy yet; he asked Santa for it).

And my 1-year old smiled at me and pointed to his truck. And a Mickey book. And his airplane. And then walked away with some Mega Blocks.

When I asked them again the next day, their answers changed: “my dolphin toy because they are so cool when they splash.” “My t-rex Halloween costume!”

And their answers changed again later that afternoon: “TV time!” “A new book from Mommy.”

The moral here is to keep it simple. Life is hard and challenging and can throw us curve balls, usually when we least expect it (or when we’re already feeling pretty run-down).

So when you’re asked what you’re thankful for, be present in that moment and answer truthfully.

As I write this post, I’m thankful for a lazy afternoon when the entire house settled for just long enough that I was able to sit with my kids and read an article in a magazine I had wanted to read for the past 2 weeks.

That was enough.

Take Action
Don’t overthink what you’re thankful for this year. Be present in the moment. What makes you smile? What makes you feel happy?

What are you thankful for?

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Rethinking the Holidays

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Navigating Family Events

Last year, we shared guidance on how to navigate family events when some family members may feel it’s their job to ask you all the uncomfortable questions in a judgy way. Though that guidance still applies to the upcoming holiday season, there’s a new factor we need to consider: the impact of COVID-19.

Family events will take on a whole new look and feel this year. For some of you, this may be a gift. You don’t have to find an excuse to get out of a family function, or be worried about finding yourself stuck at the dessert table with creepy Uncle Bob, or find yourself stuck answering questions about why you’ve changed jobs three times in the last 3 years from your self-righteous Aunt Sally. These see-you-twice-a-year family members are likely not going to make the cut for many of the family functions that do still happen.

But for the family that is still gathering, there is almost undoubtedly going to be some tension about how each person interprets COVID-19 guidelines. For example, you may feel it’s important to always wear a mask, practice social distancing and stay outside as much as possible. Your mother may think masks are ridiculous but she practices social distancing and your brother may think the entire thing is a farce.

How do you navigate a family function when you all disagree on what the proper protocol should look like?

Here are our three tips to help you navigate family events in the time of COVID holiday:

1. Define your limits. We talked about this in another post about rethinking the holidays. Defining your limits is about creating rules for you and your family, and knowing how much you’re willing (or not willing) to budge. Though family members are often our toughest critics, it frequently comes from a place of love, so though you may not all agree all the time, they should be open to hearing and respecting what you are and are not comfortable with as it relates to how you want to celebrate the holidays this year. After all, your limits are for you to define, not them. Be able to explain why you have created your limits. This will help you and them better appreciate the thought behind your choices. So, define your limits and share them so everyone can be on the same page.

2. Control what you can control. You’ve shared your limits and you’ve been told the event will happen within those limits. But when you arrive, you realize it’s far from what you’ve been promised. A small gathering of 10 has turned into a party of 50. No one has masks and the party is inside a small house where social distancing is not possible. What do you do? You have two choices: 1) go to the party and operate within your limits (wear your mask, keep your distance as best as possible, stay outside as much as you can) or 2) you can respectfully let the host know you aren’t comfortable staying but you’ll be in touch to reconnect at another time.

Both of these options has the potential to be calm and thoughtful or loud and angry. It’s your choice. You control what you can control.

3. Accept that things will be different. Yes, you may get challenged on what you decide for yourself or how you may need to respond to the situation in the moment. I have always found that approaching any situation from a positive and grateful way gives you more options to consider, and helps you deliver your comment or actions with grace and care. You may not agree with the rules of the family for the holiday and therefore decide not to attend, but you can appreciate that you differ, respect their perspectives and hold fast to your own while still caring, loving and supporting each other.

Take Action
Holidays can be tough because of the magnitude of traditions and expectations, but remember this: we have seen how adaptive and flexible we have been this year. So many things this past year have made us rethink what we do. It is time to apply this approach to our holidays with a commitment to first stay safe and keep the people we love safe, then to celebrate the things we celebrate at this time of year. Let people know your rules for yourself and others and be respectful of others’ rules for themselves.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Little Moments of Remarkable

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