We have just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World with a set of our kids and grandkids.  Or as I like to refer to my family these days, some of my grandchildren and their domestic staff.  (Priorities, you know).  Of course, the trip reminded me that I no longer have the stamina for an entire day at the parks (if I ever did), and that I really hate crowds.   We managed to work around those problems, however, and in the process had a wonderful trip.  The things that made the trip grand were important lessons that I can apply to the rest of my life during the holidays.

Attitude Matters

Disney’s customer service is legendary, but I could tell that even WDW is having trouble finding enough employees to meet its usual standards.  Things were a bit ragged here and there, and I could tell that a lot of employees were new and not-quite-trained.  Yet they all remained amazingly upbeat and positive.  I don’t know how Disney manages to keep them appearing so optimistic, but the effect was to help keep the rest of us more upbeat.  It’s hard to stay grumpy when a cheerful staff member is trying very hard to solve your problem.

Of course, “perky” can be very annoying, particularly in the face of a real problem.  Although we had only minor inconveniences, I saw the Disney employees working with some extremely disgruntled visitors.  The Disney people always acknowledged the seriousness of the problem, and worked hard to solve it.  Throughout, they remained optimistic that they would find a solution.

I know that when I run into roadblocks, whether major or minor, I need to remain calm and upbeat.  Knowing it and doing it, however, are two very different things.  Watching Disney deal with people who made me want to reach for duct tape was a good reminder of how much my attitude can set the tone for the rest of my family.

Relationships and Shared Experiences Matter

The core of our trip was spending time together.  This particular child lives out of state, so we have not been able to spend as much time with this family as with most of our other children.  The trip was a wonderful time to get reacquainted.  Halfway through, I realized that each of us was enjoying time together more than any other part of the vacation.  Our kids had recognized this before we did and had reserved several sit-down meals.  Those breaks in the day turned out to be more important than I had expected.  It gave us a chance to retreat from the crowds, concentrate on talking to each other, and enjoy a relaxed shared experience.

Even the times that we spent waiting in line turned out to be important bonding experiences.  Disney has a lot of fun (and free) ways to pass the time, and we enjoyed playing interactive games on our phones and looking for hidden Mickeys.  The various rides, of course, were fun, but they turned out to be much less important than the times that we spent talking and sharing experiences with each other.

Timing Matters

Last week, we saw several instances of the infamous “Disney meltdown” from children pushed beyond their endurance.  Our grandchildren, fortunately, were old enough to tell their parents when they needed a break, and our children were wise enough to listen to them.  Watching that dynamic reminded me that we have to take our relationships with children at their pace.  Pushing for relationships before a child is ready will get us a version of the meltdown, even if it’s just polite withdrawal.  Relationships are important, but sometimes quietly preparing the foundation can be the most important part.

Holidays Are About Relationships

The lesson for me for the rest of the holidays is that the spectacle and presents, just like the rides at Disney, are not as important as building relationships.  Whether our kids are foster children with us temporarily while awaiting reunification with biological family or stepchildren who are a new part of our family, we need to keep our relationships at the core of the holiday celebrations.   We need to build in time to talk, listen to each other, get (re)acquainted, and learn what is important to our children.  That is the best gift that we can give any of them this year.

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Debbie Ausburn

I make my living as a lawyer, but what I do is take care of other people’s children.