person in pain, distress.
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Dear Dr. Batya,
It seems like yesterday that I dealt with the holidays. The family will be with me for Seder, there is a ton of cooking and cleaning and I feel totally stressed out just thinking about it. I welcome your suggestions.
- A.H., Modi'in
No matter how we feel about the holidays, for most people they are not a neutral event, but rather a time of increased stress. You have named three of the main stressors - cleaning, cooking and, of course, the Seder with all of the interpersonal issues involved. Holidays are a time of ambivalence for many and sadness for some, as family dynamics can make things more difficult. Whether it's loved ones who are missing from the table or difficulties pleasing the many generations that will be represented, these challenges are stressful.
Two areas that in the hustle and hassle of preparing get far less attention than they deserve are the retelling of the Passover story (while not feeling personally enslaved) and the desire to make the holidays meaningful yet fun for everyone. These are important, so don't get stuck instead on the little details that can potentially ruin it for everyone. If you keep these goals in mind, you can make Passover a wonderful experience for everyone.
Here are a few thoughts: Prepare in advance as much as possible. This takes place on several levels. If you need to prepare yourself and your children to get into the holiday in a spiritual sense, make sure that you don't leave things until the last minute when you may lack both time and energy. Make lists, delegate and use your time wisely to keep from getting overwhelmed.
Everyone, regardless of age, can do something to help prepare for the Seder. Start your cleaning now, remember that dust and clutter are not hametz and pace yourself to keep from arriving at the table exhausted. If this is the time of year that you do your spring cleaning, try to differentiate between what "needs" to be done and what you simply want to do as long as you are cleaning.
Involve the children as much as possible. Each child can have age appropriate tasks and should be praised for handling his jobs well. Get into the spirit of the holiday. You will be the one to set the tone for the family. If you make it fun, they'll look forward to it. There is no shortage of jobs to be done! Young children can make table decorations, shape matza balls, help clean and even prepare some questions for the Seder itself. Children of all ages can tell or act out part of the story. Keep everything child friendly and your children will pitch in to help, remain at the table during Seder and enjoy the holiday.
Focus on what is important. Whether you limit your cleaning to what is essential, invite strangers into your home or find various ways to enrich the holidays, remind yourself that you are creating memories that will last a lifetime. Our senses help us remember what is important. Whether it is the smell of the matza ball soup, the taste of haroset, the sounds of laughter as the wonderful songs are sung, the touch of the props you use to symbolize the 10 plagues or the sight of guests sitting on the floor in costume, each of these can make your experience a special one.
Put some routine and structure into the week. Children of all ages need consistency whenever possible and with no school, lots of people around, unusual sleep and mealtime schedules and much to do, everyone's tempers may be a bit frayed. Holidays inspire extremes, so make sure that you take time for yourself to get some exercise, rest and eat well. If food issues are potentially a troublesome area for you, make sure you take the time to focus on how you can successfully enjoy the holiday. Remember, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and other healthy foods can be kosher for Passover. It is up to you to make smart choices.
How you "get through" the holidays is determined by your state of mind at the beginning of the holiday. Practice good "mental health talk" and choose goals that are realistic for you and your family. Pat yourself on the back for the hard work you've done, role play how you'll deal with your daughter-in-law who sits throughout the entire meal without moving or practice your deep breathing exercises as you remind yourself that Aunt Sarah is likely to send one too many negative comments in your direction. There will be challenges!
Finally, remember that only you can decide how truly liberating Pessah will be for you and your family. You can choose to see it as a time to celebrate your freedom and appreciate all that you have. Now may be the time to let go of those things that represent maror - bitterness - in your life. Perhaps this year as you dip twice, you can see it as the opportunity to try yet again, to get it right. This may be the time to ask yourself, "Why is this night truly different from all other nights?" and search for the real answers that are found within.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.