As the end of the year approaches, so do the winter holidays. As magical and wonderful as this time of year is, it can also feel chaotic and hectic. Families are dealing with a unique mixture of too much sugar and too little routine. For kids, the holidays can seem like they are filled with unfamiliar relatives, uncomfortable sweaters, weird foods, long religious services and boring travel. Add in the excitement of getting that big gift, and the letdown of not getting it (or getting it and finding out it's not all its chalked up to be), and you have the perfect recipe for Big Holiday Feelings.
The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help. The most important thing to remember is that Big Holiday Feelings are completely normal, and totally OK.
Let kids matter
Recent research has proven that kids who feel like they matter experience greater happiness, academic performance and overall well-being. "Mattering" is defined as not just feeling valued by your family and community, but also adding value to your family and community. Mattering can be achieved through participation in holiday toy drives or charity work in the community, and it can even happen at home. The holidays present families with tons of chores, and tons of opportunities for kids to feel like they matter. Since kids are out of school for holiday breaks, they have plenty of time to help with regular household chores like laundry or taking out the trash. And there are special, holiday-specific chores. Young children can add bows or ribbons to packages or seal greeting cards with a glue stick. Slightly older children can take over slice-and-bake cookies or complete recipes if that is more their speed. Preteens and teens can definitely handle hanging lights or decor. Let everyone pitch in and matter.
The long weekend around Thanksgiving and the extended winter break seem like good chances to sleep in and lay around. Hopefully your family experiences a couple of good relaxing days this holiday season. Usually, though, the holidays have us traveling, visiting and being out and about. While it's a ton of fun to see friends and family or to enjoy holiday events and outings, it can be tiring for our kids, too. Many parents can tell you horror stories of a missed nap, bedtime or snack that have resulted in meltdowns, so as much as possible, try to keep your kids on somewhat regular routines. Be sure to include running around outside as part of your kids' routines, too. That fresh air is good for everyone.
Spend real time together
The fact of the matter is that during holidays, we parents are often swirling around, busy and not always fully present. We are hurrying about, checking relatives' flights, cleaning floors or getting out and washing the good plates. Many of us are coming face-to-face with complicated feelings of grief over a recent loss or reckoning with difficult emotions about extended family members we don't usually see. Your kids may not be able to articulate what is going on with you, but they will definitely notice the hustle and bustle and your overall vibe. Take a beat to check in with them and spend some quality time together. It can be as simple as a walk or hike outdoors, a board game, a low-key drive around the block to check out lights or a family movie night. Younger kids may just want you to lay in bed with them at the end of a long day, and I can't think of an easier way to decompress and invest in some downtime.
Employ (metaphorical) ear muffs
Parents, it's just true. Well-meaning relatives will comment on your parenting and/or your children. They may offer advice that might not jive with you, or perhaps they will straight up undermine you. The things that they say may annoy or frustrate you. This may bring up weird feelings that are reminiscent of things you felt as a child. It will be overwhelming. Even with the best of intentions, things come out. You don't have to listen to or believe these things, and neither do your kids. Assume best intentions whenever you can, and don't take it to heart.
Take care of yourself
Perhaps the most overstated and eye-roll-inducing piece of advice straight out of the self-care industry is to "put your oxygen mask on first." Trite, but true. During November and December, it can seem as though it's a parents' job (and let's be honest, all too often a mother's job) to make the holidays perfect and lovely for everyone else, in particular for the kids. Managing everyone's emotions and expectations and experiences in order to create a Christmas-card level of perfection is a heck of a lot of pressure. Figure out ways to blow off steam. This looks different for everyone, but examples might be taking a grounding walk with a friend, listening to your favorite music, getting enough sleep, or store-buying the darn cookies. It's all OK.
Pamela Savage is a freelance writer living in Springfield. She wishes you and yours a very happy holiday season!