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Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

As we transition from Thanksgiving into the winter holidays, I find myself both excited and a little anxious, as in the past I was known in my family for being so worried about the perfect Christmas that I often turned into the Grinch.
Now a few years older and wiser, I can enjoy the traditions that we have built over the past 30 years as a family.

For many of us, relaxing and lowering the anxiety that accompanies the holidays can be difficult. In many households, a lot of the planning often falls on one person, and that can be overwhelming. After several years of struggling, my family started sitting down in the beginning of December to discuss our holiday commitments, helping everyone to enjoy the season and keeping the Grinch out of our home.

Prioritizing events and activities is particularly important for families with teens. Involving the entire family in choosing which parties, family dinners and community events to attend allows each family member ownership of the calendar. Parents should be prepared that teens might like to be excused from some holiday events in order to have some downtime or to spend time with friends.

This can be a tough transition for some families, and parents can have some non-negotiable commitments on the calendar. By planning the month out ahead of time, family disputes may be avoided. Teens need to feel they have some ownership over their social life, and inclusion in the planning empowers them to identify some of their social priorities.

The one mistake I made as my children hit the high school years was dropping some of our regular holiday traditions. My thought was that some of our annual events were not for older kids. I had forgotten that family traditions offer important connections to each other and continuity with the past, which is critically important in our fast-paced society.

The hours in front of the TV watching The Year without a Santa ClausRudolph, and The Grinch were just as important as the packages on Christmas morning. These moments allow our family to be in touch with the cycle of the seasons and memories of earlier years.

Over the past few years, we have had the benefit of adding two daughters-in-law to our holidays. They bring added creativity and recipes to our annual New Year’s pasta party, include our sons in their family traditions and add some challenges to how we schedule events to accommodate both sides of their families.

These are happy challenges, so long as we remember to recognize everyone’s voice in planning activities and opting out when necessary. Teens and young adults, as well as parents, need some downtime during these weeks. High school and college students just finished hectic semesters and late nights studying for finals. Planning a pajama day when everyone stays home to watch movies is also one of my favorite family traditions and probably the one I look forward to the most.

The next Wellness and Prevention Coalition meeting will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 189 Avenida La Cuesta. The Coalition will discuss its upcoming Wellness Fair, held in February. 

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at

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