December is a month that can only be tackled by a large peppermint latte with two extra shots of espresso. Multiple holidays, three families to visit, four meals to eat, two gifts to drop off – not to mention it all has to be worked around the baby’s feeding schedule or a toddler’s nap time. Sound familiar? If you’re like the majority of families running around like mad during this busy season, first take a deep breath. Then read on for some expert advice and tips from parents like you on how to experience less stress and more holiday cheer this year.
Quality versus quantity time
“Many adults can have seriously high expectations on everything from entertaining to long-distance traveling,” says Mary Louise Gambill, MSW, Clinical Director at the Womanline-Insight Professional Counseling Center in Kettering, Ohio. “The push to travel in a hustle-like fashion is more about disconnecting than connecting.” In Gambill’s view, meaningful visits should focus more on the quality of time spent together rather than the quantity. “The holidays are about being reflective and contemplative with time-honored rituals and routines…where time is suspended for just a moment or two. It’s about holding long conversations and really being present for each other. Being present is the truest gift we can give and receive.”
Bigger families = less time to visit everyone
Large or blended families can mean extra invitations and extra obligations. Indeed, when we recently asked Dayton Parent Facebook readers how they handle multiple requests from family members to visit during the holidays, many parents remarked on how difficult it can be please everyone – and what they lose in the process. As one reader wrote, “Everyone is divorced! It makes it twice as crazy! One year we drove to my father-in-law’s for breakfast and spent three hours, then we drove to my mother-in-law’s for lunch and spent three hours, and then drove to my mother’s where we spent three hours. His mom was upset and cried we left 5 minutes early, and my mom was upset that we showed up 5 minutes late. I got home and cried. … I haven’t had a stress/drama free Christmas since we had kids.”
Many parents have learned (often the hard way) that despite their best efforts, trying to make everyone happy just isn’t likely to happen. Reader Carletta H. writes, “For Thanksgiving we pick one place and spend the entire day there. We no longer run from house to house. All of Christmas day is always spent at home so our young children that are now 7 and 4 can relax and play.”
As Gambill says, “How you spend your time is a very personal decision, so honor that in yourself.”
Those families with young children often find it easier to request that everyone comes to them. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and family members with older children may be more likely to understand your restricted schedule. “If they want to spend the holidays with us then they have to come to our house,” writes Amanda A. “Once we [had] our daughter we made it clear we wanted to start traditions at home and that all the family was welcome to come.”
Time for yourself, time for others
During the holidays, you play many roles: chef, hostess, gift wrapper, chauffeur, etc. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process. “Above all, take time for good self-care,” advises Gambill, who suggests interjecting small moments like taking a walk or enjoying a cup of hot cocoa amidst all the holiday hustle and bustle.
Be flexible, give yourself a break and do what feels right for your family – which in some years may actually mean agreeing to embrace the holiday shuffle. As one reader writes, “We see both sides on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Is it a pain? Yes. But, parents and grandparents aren’t around forever. You can never get that time back. We live within thirty minutes of both sides. It involves a lot of traveling. But, it’s worth a bit of sacrifice for our daughter to have those forever memories with her grandparents at Christmas.”