01/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Solution To Holiday Stress: Rent-A-Family

Let me begin by offering a hearty thanks to those of you who took the time to respond to the last three columns! Apparently, the subject matter struck a familiar chord.
There is no mistaking it: holidays bring stress. Some of you mentioned dreaded visits from nasty in-laws. Others, the horrific aftermath of traumatic loss due to suicide. There is no shortage of contributory factors. Especially this year, with the economy in the sewer, and fears of job loss rising daily. Individuals everywhere are left in the conundrum of just how to 'pull off the holidays,' with a minimum of anxiety, disturbance, and disappointment. Those who benefit from an optimistic nature are holding out the possibility for renewed joy, despite outer conditions. Not everyone is so inclined.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, in the Spirit of the Season, taking a lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge, I have decided to offer you another vision. If truth be told, the following is an idea that I've been hoarding for retirement. However, with what's happened to most of our retirement plans, short of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, I figure it is time to share what I've had in storage. Perhaps the notion will lift your spirits as well as my own?

Rent-a-family. Even the casual observer has noticed that pretty much everyone, (except maybe Beaver Cleaver) has someone in their family that is difficult. Around each table sits a conglomeration of folks with every personality, imaginable. There are the talkers, and the silent ones. There are the endlessly optimistic, and the predictable pessimists. There are those whose hearts are filled with faith, and others who, just as religiously, guard their atheist or agnostic alters. Host and hostess are challenged with the chore of insuring the holiday is memorable for good reasons, rather than turf wars. Like it or not, old grudges have a way of coming to the table, even when disguised as the proverbial elephant in the room. After hearing client renditions of worse-case scenarios, one year, I had an epiphany. It's called "Rent-a-Family."

How Rent-a-Family Works. In this fantasy, all you do is place an order with Rent-a-Family, for the particular family character/s you'd like to hire. This means that you need to identify the sort of person you'd like to have at your holiday event, and the role you want them to play. For example, as my grandparents were all dead before I was born, I used to long for a grandma. So, in this scenario, I might contact Rent-a-Family and place my order, which reads: 'Send me a grandma character, with a big enough lap to hold children who'd like to cuddle. She is large enough that she doesn't worry about the consequences of a second piece of chocolate cake. This character is very supportive, and welcomes everyone as if they are the most special person in the world. She smiles a lot, and sings little songs in the kitchen. She listens to you beautifully, and knows how to tell simple, meaningful stories. She is patient, kind, and has a great sense of humor. She dresses in very comfortable ways, and wears a big apron. She makes doing chores, like the dishes, fun.'

Get the picture? As a renter, your job is to supply those of us at Rent-a-Family with a detailed description of the character you'd love to join you for the holidays. You're the director. You choose the type of personality, the role, the costuming, the effect you'd like to create. We do the rest. In fact, if you'd like, this family member will bring the gift you'd like, and/or have special conversations with other family members of your choice. We aim to please. Our mission is to reinvent your holiday in a way that brings the new life you want into your home.

Center stage. After all, if Shakespeare was right, as he was about so many things, "All the world's a stage." Rent-a-Family takes these words to heart. A few years back, Richard Bach added his own corollary when he said: "True family rarely grows up under the same roof." I don't know about you, but the truth of both these authors has stayed with me. Especially when we adopted our daughter nearly 26 years ago at birth. Her brother, nearly 10 ½ years older whispered to me one day when she was a newborn: "Mom, you're going to tell Brandy the truth about her adoption when she asks some day, aren't you?" To which I nodded, and asked him: "What is the truth as you see it?" I shall never forget his answer. "Some of us are born into our soul families. But there are others who need to be born into physical families in order to get to their soul families. Adoption is just another word for loving." Out of the mouths of babes, right?

Chosen Family. Ever since then, I began to think about the whole notion of 'chosen family.' You and I both have our own. These are the people with whom we have no genetic tie, (except for the fact that we all apparently started the family tree somewhere around Ethiopia geneticists say). Each of the people in our 'chosen family' have certain qualities. Most fundamental of which is the fact that when with them, we feel free to be ourselves. These are the soul sisters and brothers who fan the flames to our dreams, and support our moving forward. They are never jealous, but rather, joyful, with our victories. With these folks, we are truly home. We are kin, for as long as we share this earth.

Renters, after all. Blood-related, or chosen, as 'family members' of either, we are here for a very short ride. If you take 'rented' to mean 'on loan' for a temporary period of time, then we are here, in these rental units, our bodies, for only a brief stay on this world stage. We are here playing a role, perhaps with a script that has become too limited, too stale.

A Rx for Relief: What I am suggesting is that it might be fun, and even useful, this year, to expand. What if you 'took on' the character role that you'd love to have visit your home? What if you experimented with what it would be like to contribute from the vantage point of this 'unlived life,' as Carl Jung put it?

Heck, who knows? If the idea for Rent-a-Family caught on, perhaps we might find a vehicle for many of the soon- to- become- unemployed? We might even restore 'holy' to the word holiday. We could do worse than hire an army of people committed to bring joy, hope, and light-heartedness into the homes of those in distress.