Making the Most of the Holidays With Your Children
All families have their own unique and often personal way of celebrating the holidays. Whether it is a special meal together, exchanging gifts or a celebration of blessings, the month is filled with a festive spirit. And while there may indeed seem to be a magic to the season, the reality is for some families it can be a difficult and challenging time. Financial struggles, a significant illness, loss of a loved one, or a divorce or separation can have profound effects on a family during a time of year that’s all about celebrations.
If your holiday is going to be different this year, how can you help your children navigate the sometimes difficult feelings that may accompany the changes?
Start early in discussing the holidays
You may want to put off discussing the holidays with your kids because you’re concerned they’ll be disappointed, maybe even angry. And you may even be struggling with your own emotions – all of which is why it’s important to plan ahead for the conversation. Think about how you can use clear and simple language they can understand while being honest and ready for their questions. Be reassuring and listen to their feelings and concerns. And you may need to come back to the topic a few different times.
Remember kids can unintentionally say hurtful things, and it may be hard to keep your own feelings in check. But responding with, “I hear that you’re really upset…” or “You seem angry, let’s take a break from this conversation” may be one way to diffuse the situation. Staying open and giving kids some time to process can also help.
Kids are often more aware than we sometimes even realize although they may not completely understand the situation. They may think mom’s sadness is somehow their fault, for example. Be reassuring and keep explanations at their level. If a grandparent has passed away, sharing that you miss them and are sad can help kids understand that it’s a normal feeling. And then together you may be able to figure out how to move forward, whether it’s starting a new holiday tradition or figuring out a way to remember a loved one within the family’s usual celebrations.
Remember what’s really important
Parents often feel pressure to make the holidays somehow ‘magical,’ but you don’t have to create the Facebook-perfect experience. Find ways to ensure the holidays reflect your family’s values. When talking with your kids, you might be surprised to discover what your kids’ favorite parts of the holidays actually are – maybe it was Grandma’s latkes or the waffle breakfast Dad made for everyone Christmas morning. While some traditions may not be possible to recreate because circumstances have changed, they can serve as the starting point for new traditions.
When gifts are exchanged there can also be a lot of pressure to get a lot of presents or very high priced ones – or sometimes even both. In the U.S. we spend an average of $600 billion during the holiday season. And it can be easy to get swept up in the frenzy of shopping and sales. Prioritize what is really important to you and your family. One family realized that spending time together was most important for them so instead of exchanging gifts they planned vacations. They would ask the kids to identify three special places to visit throughout the year – one close to home, one within a few hours driving distance and a third could be anywhere. While they couldn’t always promise the big trip, they did their best throughout the year to take trips to the places their kids identified. Ultimately they created memories for a lifetime, more than any toy could provide. And it illustrates what kids remember the most – the quality time that you spend together. Figuring out what is realistic for your family – and engaging everyone in the family with the discussion – is important as it helps set expectations and ultimately, can help kids grow to recognize what is really the most important part of the holiday season.
When kids have to split time between parents it can create uncertainty for kids, and there may even be some negative behavior or critical comments because the holidays aren’t like they used to be. Again, it’s a time to be patient and calm as kids may be experiencing sadness or anger about the change within the family. It’s also important to stay positive or at least neutral about the other spouse so that kids don’t feel like they’re being pushed to take sides or choose one parent over the other.
A season of giving
While the holidays are often about family, they are also about community. And as you consider new traditions with your family, think about ways your family can acknowledge and even celebrate that. Do something meaningful for a neighbor like shovel the snow or bring them cookies. Donate time or money to a charity of the family’s choosing. It’s a good opportunity to help kids see they are part of something bigger and how they can make a difference no matter their age.
It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself during the holiday season. Exercise, eat well, get good rest and limit alcohol. You’ll have more love and patience to offer your children if you are doing well. If you find yourself struggling, reach out to your physician or a mental health professional for help.