For some of us, the holidays conjure up pleasant memories of being with our families when we were young and we look forward to spending some quality time with our kids. But for some parents, the stress of getting it all done, working within limited economic means, and handling our children’s upsets at family gatherings is enough to push us over the edge.
When I was young and the holidays would roll around, my grandmother would say, “Ahh, the holidays are at our throats again!” Now my mother jokingly reminds us of that and I…well, am trying to do things a little differently.
One thing that we can usually count on around special occasions or holidays is that big feelings will arise for our children—whether it’s because they didn’t get the gift they wanted, they’re absorbing our stress, or they are surrounded by family with lots of warm attention which can make it easier for feelings to bubble up—melt downs will ensue. Children’s expectations soar around these times, and the let down can be big.
Parents have feelings around these times too! Embarrassed that your kids are not behaving well around friends and family? Irritated that whatever seemed to be bothering your daughter in the morning is still lingering at dinnertime and you feel like you’ve been locked in a battle with her all day?
There are a few things to try around special occasions that can ease the tension:
1) Get time and support for yourself! Even if you’re visiting family around the holidays, sneak out for a 20-minute walk in the neighborhood. Just ten minutes of exercise during the day can make a big difference! Start a new book that you’ve wanted to read, or call a friend to connect and to talk about the stress of the holiday season. Do something for yourself around this time that will give you an extra boost and help you to come back to your kids refreshed and renewed.
2) Make plans that work for you and your family, even if they seem to go against the grain. I have a friend who has had a difficult relationship with her sister for many years. They’ve tried to work things through, their parents have tried to help, but they still struggle to get along. Yet, they’ve been going to family gatherings together, unhappily, for years, dragging their children with them.
Finally, last year, my friend decided not to join her family for Thanksgiving. Instead, she took her three children to a friend’s house. There were other families there with their kids and they all had a great time. My friend was so glad she finally decided to spend the holidays free from family tension. Extending her “family” community helped her to feel less isolated and more appreciated. And her children were happy not to be subjected to the adult tension as well. Decide what’s best for you around these times, think it through with someone, and make it happen.
3) Before family gatherings or parties, do a little special time with your little one. Because the days can get busy around the holidays and social events can sometimes bring up feelings for children, try some special time early in the day before you go to that holiday celebration in the evening. Your child will appreciate the one-on-one time and you’ll get to slow down and feel more connected to your little one.
4) Keep the laughter going! Find ways to laugh with your children during the holidays—it can reduce stress for everyone! A few days after Thanksgiving, I took my son to the museum with my mother and his aunt who was visiting from out of town. As soon as we got there and started looking at one of their new exhibits, my son looked at me and said, “This is boring! Boring, boring, boring!”
I felt the tension starting to rise. I just wanted him to be “good”! Just for an hour! Starting to seethe, I bent down and hissed, “Stop talking like that! I don’t want to hear that right now.” He looked at me angrily and growled back, “Boring, boring, boring!”
I turned to a Day of the Dead alter on exhibit and thought, “This isn’t going well.” So I mustered up the energy to try something different and I knelt down next to him, nuzzled my nose in his tummy, and said, “What do you mean? This is fun, fun, fun!” That got a giggle out of him and he looked at me, and mumbled under his breathe with a smile, “boring!” And I nuzzled in again, “Wait, I thought this was fun?” He continued to giggle and repeat, “boring”, and I chased him a few feet as he laughed more.
At this point we were both laughing. I’d chase him quietly for a few feet, he’d whisper “boring” under his breath, I’d reach out and give him a hug or a tussle, and he’d have a big giggle again. A few minutes into it, my mother and sister-in-law asked with big smiles on their face, “What’s so funny?!” I whispered to them how boring the exhibit was and we all laughed. Giggling can be contagious!
We then discovered that there was a life science exhibit on the first floor of the museum. My son loves animals and was eager to go, so we made our way downstairs. So enthralled with the animals and plant life of California, he forgot how boring the museum was.
Even if it’s just ten minutes a day, remember to find and follow your child’s laughter. I love this story from a fellow Parenting by Connection instructor in Austin, Texas, of how she turned the tension of turkey day into laughter with her little one.
Remember, to reduce the stress of parenting around the holidays, spend fun, relaxed time with other adults (without the kids), squeeze in exercise whenever you can, build in some special time with your kids, and don’t forget to laugh!