by Eddie Pipkin

Image by 955169 from Pixabay

During the holiday season, we travelled a lot, and we hosted a lot.  That means that sometimes we had guests sharing our home (no less than four different sets of guests over a month), and sometimes we were hosted by different sets of friends in their own homes.  That’s a lot of logistics, figuring out shared meals, splitting bathroom time, coordinating coffee prep, moving cars around in driveways, and scheduling entertainment.  Everybody has different needs and different schedules.  From my experience, the path to promoting maximum happiness is to let everyone march to their own tune as much as possible.  Let those different personal rhythms overlap and intersect and sometimes an awesome new tune is born!

When you are inhabiting a house with multiple personalities, there are some basic approaches to coordinating the day.

On one end of the spectrum is the “hands fully on” approach in which you attempt to meticulously manage everyone’s schedules, taking responsibility for all of the logistics and how they will intersect.  You schedule every mealtime and menu.  You conduct surveys to determine which group entertainment options will prevail.  You perhaps go so far as to establish everyone’s shower practices to be sure there is enough hot water on hand for peak usage.  I’ve known people with project management personalities to develop intricate spreadsheets to keep track of everyone and everything.  This approach can work – it certainly has the potential to reduce the anxiety of the host – but it tends to lead to some drama because there is always someone who is impervious to staying on schedule (guilty as charged).

Those of us who are flexible in our schedule and needs, who live by a rule of spontaneity in our daily approach to decision making, will often say “don’t worry about me” in group cohabitation situations, and we genuinely mean it, but then we do things that frustrate hosts like show up unexpectedly at mealtime and expect to be fed.

That’s why on the other end of the host-coordination spectrum, the “hands fully off” approach is an option that leaves things loosey-goosey and can relieve host anxiety by avoiding the need to herd a horde of cats, but this approach can ultimately lead to drama and tension as wildly divergent expectations crash into each other.  It takes a very specific personality to endure this sort of chaos as an amateur innkeeper.  One needs to be able to shrug one’s shoulders when the logistics fail (because water heaters truly do have a limited capacity and ice makers are subject to the physical laws of ice production).  If your heart is set on getting everybody together in their Christmas pajamas for an adorable commemorative photo, it is extraordinarily unlikely that such an opportunity will happen randomly and without coercion.

The best approach is a hybrid approach, “hands partially on,” maybe “hands loosely on” or a “gently gripping” strategy.  This can be done by identifying the areas that are most critical and managing them carefully, while leaving maximum flexibility in the areas that don’t matter as much:

  • Establish priorities. What is a dealbreaker for you as the host?  If there are things that you know are going to go badly unless you coordinate them, then make it a priority to coordinate those things.  Additionally, there are things that perhaps that could practically function with a little chaos, but those things are just things that if they happen in a chaotic fashion, will personally drive you bonkers.  You feel how you feel, so make it a priority to manage those things that give you the biggest feelings (with the caveat that those things can’t be everything).  If you are judicious in establishing your priorities, people will indulge them.  Not everybody will think Christmas pajama photos are adorable and worth the effort, but if they see that such a tableau is genuinely important to you, and you’ve not been an tediously obsessive taskmaster-host, they will indulge your dream.
  • Letting go. Having established your must-haves for safety, practicality, peace, and sanity, now work diligently to let everything else go.  Do not do this grudgingly – it doesn’t count if everyone else can see that you are miserable.  Try to lean into other people’s preferences and priorities and enjoy their enjoyment of their time with you and the family.
  • Lock in the logistics. Lay the groundwork for successful schedule integration and adequate support for people to both interact and pursue their own agendas.  That means doing things like saying, “Here are the meals we will be providing and when they’ll be and what we’ll be having.  Here are the ones when we’ll all go out together, and here are the ones when you’ll be on your own.”  That way, people can let you know if they’re opting in or opting out, know what the expectations are (and when) and how they can contribute.  Be sure you have all the basic supplies for freestylers: “Here’s what groceries we have that you can use without sabotaging dinner plans, and anything beyond that you need to supply for yourself.”  I call that the “bring your own Takis” rule for my visiting nephews.
  • Over-communicate! People will probably make fun of you, but the more communication you can provide, centrally accessible, with a provision for comments and questions, the more copacetic everyone will ultimately be.  There are so many ways to get messages scrambled when multiple people are sharing space and time, so communication (overcommunication) is key.  Keep it light.  Keep it fun.  But keep it coming.

Thinking in terms of when you are not the host, but the guest, requires mentally flipping the script.

  • Honor the host. Fit yourself into the host’s expectations when you can. Do this with a happy and grateful attitude, counting your blessings, and leaning into the possibilities of the interactions that have been carefully choreographed.
  • Establish your own essential priorities. If there are things that matter to happiness and sanity, state them up front, politely and humbly.  Be willing to horse trade if host-guest priorities bump up against one another.
  • Offer creative compromises. Make the horse trading thoughtful, not a hostage negotiation.  Get everybody together to talk about the different things that are important to different people (and why – the why is so important, especially from the standpoint of relationship building).  Find ways to accommodate everyone’s priorities, sometimes by blending activities, sometimes by divvying up the schedule in different ways (maybe a scaled-back version of one activity to make more time for another activity), sometimes by saying, “Okay, we’ll do your thing this year and my thing next year.”
  • Communicate early and often. It is unfair to assume that people know what matters to you (and how much) if you haven’t told them.  It is unfair to tell them this essential information after the fact.  It’s not only unfair, it’s unhealthy.  If you have trouble communicating your own priorities with the people in your life (and listening well when they communicate theirs) – if there is no mechanism within your relationships for regularly communicating such priorities – this is a fine subject for a resolution for growth for 2024.

All of these people in tight spaces with overlapping priorities and interconnected needs and complex histories have been the recipe for Christmas comedies for decades.  Chaos is almost certainly guaranteed.  Dramatically different superimposed tempos most often lead to CACOPHONY.  But with a great composer and a competent maestro at the helm, they can also lead to beautiful and interesting music.

Are you familiar with Polyrhythm?

If you are curious about how this applies to ministry leadership in the year ahead, tune in to next week’s blog.  Until then, happy 2024!  Hope it’s already off to a great start!