The holidays are supposed to be a time of peace and joy, but sometimes our families just seem to ruin the holiday cheer. On today’s episode, Dr. Leman walks through navigating the holidays while avoiding resentment and bad memories.


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Doug: Woohoo. It’s that magical time of the year again, when we get together with people that we love, but we hate to be with them. How do you deal with the holidays? How do you deal with having the people you’re supposed to love, but it ends in yelling and fights, and just that awkward silence? That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman today.

Doug: Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so happy that you are with us today, and welcome to the holiday season. And if you’re hearing this after the holiday season, welcome to post holiday seasons, but for those of us that are listening currently, it’s the holiday season, and we get to ask Dr. Leman about this. If this is your first time with us, we want to let you know that this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or a child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Doug: Well, Dr. Leman, I may have asked this question years ago, but I’m going to ask it again. Did you ever get that sweet gift when you were a kid that you’re like, “Oh, I always remember the” blah-blah-blah gift?

Dr. Leman: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We were poor to begin with, okay? As a kid, we had stockings, but they were filled with things like oranges, tangerines, nuts. If there was a little goodie in there, you were lucky. So we didn’t have much in terms of things.

Dr. Leman: And one of the Christmas gifts I remember best was I saw this yellow with a blue stripe down the center of it football helmet that I wanted, and I was probably eight, nine, 10 years old. But I knew my parents couldn’t afford that. But I’d walk by this sporting goods store, and I’d see it. I’d wish for it, and, again, I just knew I wouldn’t get it. But I remember that Sunday morning coming down the stairs, and seeing the Christmas tree, and flicking on the lights, and seeing this bright yellow helmet under the tree.

Dr. Leman: Yeah, I think we all have those memories of little things, big things early in our childhood that surprised us or whatever. We tend to remember little things in life. I wrote a book about early childhood memories. It’s a fascinating book to read, by the way. If somebody tells me, “Hey, have you got a fascinating book to read,” I would say, “Yeah, read what your early childhood memories say about you. It helps connect a lot of the dots.”

Dr. Leman: So, yeah. To answer your question, yeah.

Doug: So today’s question for you is at the holiday season, we get back together with people that we love, but often it can end in yelling, or the classic silence and everybody just watches the football game, and hopes that it ends soon. And mom’s trying to make everybody happy. How do we deal with all those crazy [crosstalk 00:02:52]-

Dr. Leman: You forgot drunk Uncle Harold. Yeah. Oh, gosh, I’ve heard so many stories.

Dr. Leman: The Christmas season that we’re surely into is supposed to be this joyous, euphoric time, where we celebrate the Lord’s birth, and we have drifted so far away from that. We’re not even close. It’s become a sideshow in so many ways. I remember being in I think it was Costco in maybe late September, early October, and they had all the Christmas things in there, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is crazy.”

Dr. Leman: So yeah, sugar plums are supposed to be dancing in our heads, and so many people, the stress level in their life has ramped up because it’s your husband’s turn to have his family come for the holidays, or it’s your wife’s turn for her family to show up.

Dr. Leman: And all I ask people to do is to think back to last Christmas. Now, some of you have repressed last Christmas. I’m a shrink. I understand that, okay? Try to pull that up. I know you don’t want to remember it, but what was it like? Now, ask yourself this question: is there a snowball’s chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that it’s going to be any different this year, and if so, why? Some of you are saying because Uncle Harold passed away in June. My condolences. But, again, whatever was is going to repeat itself when it comes to getting family together because all the old rivalries, whatever they are …

Dr. Leman: We all grew up in different families. What do I mean by that? Your sister, who was six years older than you were, grew up in a different family. Your brother, who was two years older than you, grew up in a different family because with the birth of each child, the family changes. And we all have our biased perceptions of what reality is, and we take that baggage, so to speak, into our relationship, and now you’re joined in holy matrimony with this man or woman, and all of their baggage comes together. We’ve said many times on our podcasts when two people marry, it’s actually at least six because you marry your in-laws.

Dr. Leman: And so all these ingredients are an explosion waiting for an Ohio blue tip match to be struck, and that’s why people hate the holidays in terms of getting together with family.

Dr. Leman: And one of my primary suggestions to you today is if you have family invading your home, that is one of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard about over the years, I would suggest finding an alternate place for the invaders to spend the days with you over the holidays, no matter how many days those are. Which means a hotel, and a lot of places have great specials over the holiday season because they don’t have the business traffic that they have. There’s lots of creative ways you can do that. Sometimes you just have to have some straight talk with your relatives and say, “Listen, you know what? If you recall, last year ended up with a big fight, and everybody went home very unhappy, and we haven’t talked much about it since then.” And that’s usually what happens when there’s a blowout. “Do we really want to get together this Christmas? Do you feel obligated? I feel obligated. I don’t know if you feel the same way as I do.”

Dr. Leman: But I’d have that kind of a talk, and maybe you agree not to get together this holiday season. And somebody saying, “Now, wait a minute. Our mom is in her eighties, and we don’t know how much longer she’s going to be on this earth, and we think it’s important to get together.” Well, then put on the big boy pants, big girl pants, solve the problems that need to be solved, and enjoy Mom and the holidays. Find a way to enjoy it, but it might take some restructuring of how you all come together so when you’re together, you have some rest periods in neutral corners, meaning they’re not under roof for five days, or whatever it is.

Dr. Leman: So that’s my initial thoughts on the topic that you’ve thrown out this morning, Doug and Andrea.

Andrea: I’m thinking about it as a parent, and sometimes maybe there’s some tension between me and my sisters, or with my parents, or in-laws, but my kids, for the most part, have really good memories of being together with their cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. But I don’t want them to be tainted by the little explosions or big explosions that happen. So as this is a parenting podcast, and we’re talking about helping our kids, what suggestions do you have for us as parents so that we can make this positive for our kids? Because I do want them to have a relationship with their grandparents. I do want them to have a good relationship with their aunts and uncles, and have fun times with their cousins in their jammies by the fire. That’s what I’m thinking about.

Dr. Leman: Well, you’ve unearthed a nugget, as you usually do, for us to think about because the reality is … See, the tension is at the adult level, and the kids, for the most part, oblivious to what’s going on. The kids get informed when you’re driving home from Uncle Harold’s house, and you start badmouthing Uncle Harold and Aunt Mabel. So the damage is done after the fact where the kids are hearing poisonous conversations about people that they love and they have fun with. Not that they have fun with the adults, per se, as much as they do with the kids, the cousins and stuff.

Dr. Leman: But I remember as a kid just go into uncles’ homes and, us kids, we’d be running the whole time. We were just into one thing and another. And if somebody had a new toy, today it’s video games and so forth, we were playing those games because they were new to us. There was something that they had at that house that we didn’t have at our house, et cetera. And, again, I think kids for the most part are oblivious about what’s going on with parental friction.

Dr. Leman: But, again, I caution you as parents, don’t bring that up in the car on the way home from an evening with friends, or relatives, or what have you. If you want to talk about that, talk about that in the privacy of your home without little ears listening. But I think your point’s a great one, Andrea. Thank you for bringing that up.

Doug: Since Andrea has helped us think this is a parenting podcast, are there steps that we can take today with our kids so that when we’re the old folks and we’re Grandma and Grandpa that it’s a pleasant experience for them?

Dr. Leman: I think the job you do, number one, as a parent today is a pretty good predictor of how close those Terpening kids are going to be someday. When you guys are old and foggy, okay, my guess is those four kids are going to be really close, and their moments that they share with hopefully Grandma and Grandpa at that stage will be cherished by them.

Dr. Leman: I know myself, I get notes from my kids. “Dad, I cherish every moment I have with you.” Every moment. How cool is that? I’m telling you, parents, what you do today in rearing your kids, and we’re glad you’re listening to this podcast because we think this podcast offers a lot of practical help for parents to be good parents. And notice we’re not saying you ought to be a great parent. Just a good parent. You’re flawed to the core to begin with, so who’s kidding who?

Dr. Leman: But if you have that good relationship with your kids, that’s going to come back to you later on in life, I think, Doug.

Doug: So let’s play the Christmas scenario. We’re at … was it Uncle Harold’s house? Right? And all of a sudden, Aunt May and Uncle Harold have decided they’re going to do their normal fight, and all of a sudden the tension rises in the room. Help us as adults then. We’re there. It’s awkward for all of us. What should our mindset be then so that it doesn’t affect our kids? What would you say to that?

Dr. Leman: Yeah, I think somebody gives the time-out sign, and usually where you’re revisiting things. You’re digging up old bones. That’s usually what happens. It’s usually not something that’s new to everybody. It’s an old bone that somebody’s digging up and throwing in somebody’s face. Some adult has to say, “Hey, time out. This is not the time to talk about this. We have lots of young ears here. Let’s talk about that another time.” Okay? In other words, don’t put the dog and pony show in front of all the kids.

Dr. Leman: And that’s why I say to parents don’t talk about or bad mouth family or friends or whatever in the car on the way home, because the kids are listening and they’re taking notes. So keep the peace, let the peace flow. I think you have to bend. Everybody has to bend a little bit to make things good.

Dr. Leman: And, again, if it’s every year, and it doesn’t get better, then, parents, think about maybe doing things different this year at the adult level, where you’re just not under the roof all the time.

Doug: I have a question about how to get that done, but before I ask that question, I want to talk about the ebook release, which is kind of interesting because the title is Stopping Stress Before It Stops You for $1.99 December 3 through 16 of 2019. How would this book help us when we’re talking about this, Dr. Leman?

Dr. Leman: Well, stress is a part of our life every day, okay? But in that book, I ask some pretty tough questions. Questions like what are your feelings going to be standing next to the coffin of your wife next Friday? What are your feelings going to be standing next to the coffin of your husband next Saturday? I ask questions in that book that help you focus in on what’s really important in life, and stress is, like I say, it’s a part of our everyday living, but lots of times we create the stress.

Dr. Leman: There’s an author, Dr. Archibald Hart, who makes the point that he thinks that we become addicted to our own adrenaline our body produces because we live such a hurried lifestyle. The “busy hands are happy hands” theory. So, anyway, it’s a book that’s full of practical suggestions about taking a look at the priorities in your life, and how to deal with stress, even from a physical standpoint.

Dr. Leman: I know in private practice for approximately 40 years when people were just anxious and stressed, I always said, “Physical exercise is really a good release for that,” and it is. Talk to your physician about what just a 20 minute brisk walk will do for your numbers when you have your blood work done. So physical, and then there’s emotional release by talking about things that bother you. It’s just a very handy, practical book. It’s been around forever, and so has stress, and all these books-

Doug: And it’s not going away.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. All these books that we offer are practical and helpful, and at $1.99, give me a break.

Doug: For $1.99 to reduce stress in your life, which everybody feels in increased quantities. So get it now between now and December 16th of 2019. And now a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Listen carefully. The man who is saying what he is about to say is really not off his rocker. Just stay with me for a little bit, would you? Outside activities for kids are not good. Yes, you heard that right. Outside activities for kids.

Dr. Leman: Now, Leman, Leman, Leman. There you go again. What do you mean, outside activities aren’t good for kids? My kid is in Little League. We love Little League. Okay, you got me. I give up. Both hands are skyward. So let’s go with limit outside activities for kids. And here’s the problem, folks. If you have three children, and each of them just has one outside activity, you’re going to go bonkers trying to keep up with them. You’re going to be shuttling kids from one activity to another, and at whose expense? At your expense. And, check this out, I think at their expense as well, because the more activity and the more people engaged in your kids’ lives when they’re young dilutes the indelible imprint that you get a chance to give to your own kids.

Dr. Leman: I think, quite frankly, some of us are addicted to our own adrenaline that our own body produces from rushing from event to event. I marvel at how young families make it today when both of them are working and they have children, and you want to put activities on top of that?

Dr. Leman: So, again, for you parents who have little older kids, it’s time for discussion around the dinner table to say, “Hey, you know what? I think we all have a little bit too much on our plate. What can we do this next year, this next semester? Any way you want to say it, this next month, to limit things so that we have more time for ourselves, more time for each other, and more time for our family?”

Doug: So Dr. Leman, we’ll all be transparent on the Terpening Family side of things, clan. We historically have the same family dynamics that some adults want to watch football and some adults hate football, and some adults want to eat bad food and some adults want to eat good food, and some adults are like, “I have older kids,” and I have younger kids. And like to suggest something can create tension, let alone trying to get everybody to go forward.

Dr. Leman: Let’s talk about bad food for a second. Wouldn’t it be fun-

Andrea: No! No!

Dr. Leman: When we have a lot of people over, okay, and my wife is Martha Stewart on steroids. Okay? She’s very creative. She presents things great. She’s a great cook. Lots of times because we have maybe 12 people over at the house, or 14, for dinner, rather than serve everybody, she’ll put everything out in our kitchen and whatever you call the counter, I guess-

Andrea: The island?

Dr. Leman: In the middle of the kitchen. Yeah, it’s soap something. Soapstone. I know that. Somebody asked her the other day, “Is this soapstone?” It’s soapstone, whatever that means.

Dr. Leman: And I think it’d be fun to put little flags, little sticky notes, like they look like flags. I’m looking at the one I have in front of me right now. It’s like those little yellow pads, only mine says Leman Academy of Excellence on it. But wouldn’t it be fun to put little toothpicks in food and say “Good food,” “Bad food,” “Good food.”

Andrea: No, they should have a particular color. Green for good, red for bad.

Dr. Leman: All I’m saying, I think when you have something that’s really rich and full of calories that are fat or whatever, McDonald’s even posts how many calories in their things. I think you could have fun with stuff like that when you have people who have such diverse tastes, and if I’m hosting that, I’m going to keep that in mind because you got old Uncle Marvin that hasn’t eaten a vegetable in his life, so you better have some potatoes for the guy or he’s going to die.

Dr. Leman: And so you’ve got the meat and potato person, and then you got a guy who has got celery breath he eats so much of it. You have an array.

Dr. Leman: The other thought on your question is for some of us, I think you have to have this conversation between the two adults in your home. “Hey, honey, it’s only three days. And I know these are really three tough days on you, and believe me, they’re not pleasant for me either. But let’s face it, I’m a little better at dealing with your family than you are. So tell me, how can I help you during these three days that are coming? Let me know. Just tell me what I can do, and I’ll do my best to help you.”

Dr. Leman: “Conversely, here’s some things you can do for me.” So there’s an even exchange of, “Okay, here’s three things you can do for me, and three things I can do for you. We switch those things. Here we are. We’re looking at it. We know what we expect of each other, and then we’re facing the enemy that is your relatives jointly on the same page.”

Dr. Leman: And that’s the best I can offer. If you’re going to have them around, then you need to get on the same page. Ask each other what we can do to help each other get through this, and go from there.

Dr. Leman: Activities are great. When you’re all together, you find that there’s a special down the road on horseback riding for everybody, or you name it, an activity or bowling. Get them out of the house. Let them go and do some things together. Have weird Uncle Marvin take the kids bowling, or ice skating, or you name it. Be activity driven.

Dr. Leman: I always tell people when they’re nervous about dating and all that, go out on an activity. Activity gives you other things to focus on other than just the two of you. So I think that makes sense. These are difficult. There’s no lockstep, “here’s your answer wrapped with a bow.” You’ve got to be creative with these things.

Doug: Well, and because it’s a parenting podcast, I want to come back to how you helped us, Andrea, keep it on point is that, A, if you can make it more fun for your kids, they’re going to have better memories of, like you said, Dr. Leman, of Christmastime. And then they’re going to want to be around with you. But if you’re always bad mouthing everybody, they’re going to think Christmases are miserable.

Doug: But I got to go back to something you just said. So a couple of years ago, we did exactly what you did. We separated into multiple houses, and then sweet Mrs. Terpening planned all these activities, which upset some people, but she still planned all these activities for people. And people will tell you it was the best Christmas we had, right? Because we were out and about, and we didn’t stay inside the house. You’re absolutely right. And we even did have some bad food, good food.

Andrea: Without flags.

Dr. Leman: All right, so listen. If you guys need more help, write to Mrs. Terpening in care of general delivery, Oregon, and she will personally answer your letter.

Doug: No, I’m just affirming to you. We just stumbled upon it, really. Yeah, you said it more succinctly and well. So that’s great news.

Doug: So we hope that this helps all of you parents that as you’re jumping into this season, for your sake and for your kids’ sake, I thought that was a great question, Andrea. Don’t badmouth Uncle Harold and Aunt May for what they do, and how much you’re upset. And if you are, do it privately for their sake. And remember, the kids think it’s great. And find solutions, and don’t argue in front of the kids. Go to hotels, not all under the same roof, and do activities, and your kids will enjoy the activities. So that’s a great one.

Doug: Well, thanks for being with us, and we hope this helps you as you come to the holiday seasons, and that it adds another tool to your parenting toolbox, so that you can just have a great time for the holidays and love those kids.

Andrea: Have a great week.

Doug: Look forward to next time. Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.