Some of my favorite memories of raising my kids are of Christmas. We always cut a fresh tree, decorate cookies on Christmas Eve, and take a walk in the snow. But, some of my most stressful memories of raising my kids are of Christmas. Trying to wrap presents at midnight, send cards before the new year, or show up to a family Christmas party with a screaming toddler and crying newborn all come to mind. No matter what holiday you celebrate, the stress can be real. Here are a few field-tested ideas to help make holidays easier and also allow you to enjoy them, too.
Have Realistic Expectations
I will never forget when my now 23 year old son was two. We were dressing for a family Christmas Eve party—we had a special suit coat and dress pants. I was really looking forward to showing off my handsome little dude. Until he refused—and I mean refused—to wear any of it. We made it to the party—late, exhausted and totally frustrated. I wish I knew then what I know now. Expecting my two year old to wear clothes that were uncomfortable at best and unfamiliar to boot was an expectation he just couldn’t meet. Unfamiliar people, crowds, different foods, late bed times, and excitment can all add up to disaster if the expectation is for kids to go along with your plan with no difficulties. I am not suggesting we don’t have expectations for their behavior…but to make holidays easier, have realistic expectations that they can meet.
Often, where the rubber meets the road is simply where our needs conflict with what our littles (or big kids!) are capable of pulling off. Holding to a schedule, a plan or an expectation that is not working for our kids means it isn’t, in the end, going to work for us no matter how much we wish it would. Be flexible, pad your schedule with extra time for mishaps (and meltdowns) and be willing to just not. Not go, not insist, not participate. Nobody wins if everyone is crying.
It’s Better to Give Than Receive
Gifts are a central part of a lot of holiday gatherings. They also create a lot of big feelings for kids: jealousy, disappointment, excitment, and ambivalence which are all normal. Helping our kids anticipate how they may feel by talking ahead of time about different scenarios can help for some kids. For others? Heading off meltdowns may be as easy as involving them in the giving, not just the receiving. Some of our greatest joys in life come from giving to others. Allow your kiddos to choose part of the gift, wrap it (even if it’s not perfect), and with the actual giving. If they are still disappointed, sad, or jealous of another person’s gift—give them time to feel it, talk about it, and discuss it later.
In the end, what’s important is time together. Not picture-perfect, stress-free time but quality time. And quality time means things won’t go as planned, and that’s okay. There isn’t a textbook answer to make holidays easier. Someday, you will sit back and smile at the epic temper tantrum your two year old threw at the family Christmas Eve party. I promise.