Everyone’s looking forward to time off work and slower mornings. But no matter what you do or if/how you celebrate, breaks and holidays can be stressful and overloaded with expectations. It’s okay to feel some apprehension, even dread. As we get ready to say goodbye for the break, here’s some advice to get through what’s often a hard and overwhelming time for families.
Honor your boundaries: Holidays are exciting, but excitement doesn’t always feel good in a body. On a recent episode of the Curious Neuron podcast, Psychologist Dr. Tamara Soles points out that this time of year can be a volatile combination of parental stress increasing at the same time that kids’ emotional intensity is rising. If you feel the urge to do more, but are gritting your teeth through the “fun,” sometimes the best thing is to do less. It’s okay to leave early, arrive late or change your mind. Always have an escape strategy.
Keep a routine: Days at home without structure can leave everyone feeling unmoored, and most of us do better when we know what to expect. A routine during a break doesn’t have to be too detailed (to allow for changes and possible disappointments), but it can help to have some things happen at the same time each day, like meals and snacks. It’s also good to have a balance of kid choices (free time or holiday movies) and grown up choices (errands and holiday events).
Have an internal strategy for family gatherings: Family events are tough to navigate when our parenting (and our kids' inevitable hard times) are on full display to others who might offer unsolicited opinions. If you know who’s going to get under your skin, I love the advice of anxiety expert Lynn Lyons (LCSW), who suggests not expecting someone to act differently, nor making an effort to try and get them to behave differently. While it’s important to advocate for your child when necessary, “Don’t take the emotional bait,” can be a helpful mantra to take with you.
Manage your expectations around gratitude: We feel disappointed and resentful when our kids don’t appreciate the holiday fun and magic we create. Sometimes baking ends up a messy disaster, or gifts and experiences don’t get the reactions we hoped for. Acknowledge the feelings and hold in mind that there’s a big build up of complicated emotions around the holidays and sometimes they come out in unexpected and inconvenient places. Try not to fast forward in those moments from ungrateful child to entitled adult. Front loading and a little coaching around opening extended family gifts might help prevent an embarrassing moment, AND it’s okay if it doesn't. Kids will be kids.
Enjoy the break, give yourself permission to abandon holiday perfection, and we’ll see you in January!
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