behavioral health holidays parenting

Enjoy the Holidays (Without Losing Your Mind)

November 7, 2016

The holidays are a time filled with expectation, wonder, and joy.
They are also a time filled with anxiety, chaos, and dismay.
I was asked to write a post for my local MoMs Club (Mothers of Multiples), and I thought it was time to write a self-care post about managing holiday intentions.

( I am also grateful to write this because I will be referring to it in the next month as a reminder).

  1. First and foremost: Decide what your priority is in celebrating the holidays. Are you celebrating Jesus’s birth? Do you believe the holidays are for visiting family and friends? Is it a time for reflection? Do you observe the Winter Solstice? Whatever the holidays mean you, be clear on your purpose of celebration, this will help focus all your activities.

  2. Begin with lists. My bullet journal is full of them, and they are all half crossed out (this is the desired effect). Make a list of all the holiday activities you want to do. I’ve learned to do this over the years with my husband because I’ve come to the realization that we have different ideas. Then with your list in hand, start crossing things off. These are the things you will NOT be doing. Depending on the age of your children and family stamina, pick maybe the top three things you want to do.

  3. Make a calendar. I’m a visual person, and sometimes I can’t conceive of an event until I see it in writing. On Active Duty, I had a three-month calendar in my office that had every event for my department. It was helpful to see it all laid out. Once you have your chronology ready, then go back to your list. How do the events you want to do match up with what is already scheduled? Do you need to reorder your priorities? Is there something you want to omit and/or add?

This tip is important for me because I have a tendency to be overscheduled. Moving from activity to activity is stressful, and when I have it all planned out, i can sometimes see how I have too much going on. In my world, too much equates to anxiety and crankiness.

I try not to miss Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. My oldest child (who doesn’t like church) or my Jewish side of the family is usually available to make this happen. It is probably my most important event.My husband (a true Scot) never misses Burns night. I schedule nothing else that weekend. Figure out your important events and plan your schedule around it.

  1. Practice setting boundaries. I role play in my head how to say, “no.” I also practice with my husband. If you can’t divest yourself or it is just not feasible to say, “no,” practice negotiation and compromise. I ¬†will take the lead in planning things I have to attend so that I don’t have to say, “no.” For example, my brother will want to see me over the holidays but he waits until the last minute to plan, so I ask him early on what he intends to do for the holidays and his schedule. Then I can manage planning something easy that suits all our needs and is not thrown together hastily. We expect our children to open their presents at our home on Christmas morning. I do not schedule any activities on Christmas day outside of our home.

  2. We all have relatives who can be stressful. I have one group of family members that live in what I refer to as, “the house of glass.” We don’t go to their home. However, they are welcome to come over. I often invite them before they can invite us. I rarely censure my kids’ play in our house. It is set up for little children. There is nothing breakable they haven’t already destroyed, or it is put up. I would rather the children learn to love these family members on our turf when their every move is not full of anxiety. If having guests gives you feelings of dread, suggest a public place with a fun activity, i.e., holiday light tour, ice skating, a picnic, etc…It’s ok to limit contact with people or settings that aren’t healthy for you or your family.

  3. Presents are stressful. My children have too much stuff. We have a rule of 4 for gifts in our home (excluding stocking stuffers). You get something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Typically, my husband and I make a list of two things we want, and the another partner chooses one (surprise). My children make each other cards or something homemade. We don’t participate in gift exchanges. My husband (an accomplished brewer) makes and bottles holiday four-packs for his office. Instead of toys, my kids get experiences from their grandparents. This year, they are going to the Smithsonian with their Grandfather and the Franklin Institute with their Aunt and Uncle. In the past, my brother gave them a pass to the children’s science center.

  4. Set a time frame for the holidays. They creep earlier and earlier each year. We decorate the house on Thanksgiving weekend (when all four kids and three adults are home). All our decorations are down on New Year’s day. As much as some family members protest, we don’t listen to holiday music outside those dates. We have found this makes the Winter season especially festive.

  5. Consider your child’s developmental stages in planning activities. I would love to take my kids to see the Putz (a traditional Moravian decoration that features ornate figurines, animals, and building scenes to tell the Nativity Story), but I’m not sure they are mature enough to sit through it or be by those tiny figurines. Last year, we tried to take my younger twins ice skating, it was a complete flop. However, tree decoration and holiday bingo game (played at home) was a hit. My children are still only on the “decorate sugar cookie phase”, we haven’t advanced to cutting out cookies yet. I want activities to be successful, not a pressure.

  6. I purchase/wrap presents and do holiday cards early. My goal is to have all gifts bought, wrapped and hidden by December 1st. I don’t love wrapping, so I get it over with early. My mother, who had a job as a young woman as a professional gift wrapper, loves it. For her, wrapping a gift is as important as the gift itself. It is a major part of her Christmas celebration. Make whatever you love a focus for your holiday and knock out the rest early.It lends more time for relaxation and enjoyment.

  7. Holiday meals can be super stressful. I try to keep our meals simple (and by comfortable, I tend to like crockpot cooking for the holiday season). This year, I’m planning to create several freezers to crockpot meals for the month of December. There are a couple of meals that I won’t miss. The freezer to pot meals allows me to focus on the meals I love like homemade latkes (potato pancakes) for Hanukkah, oyster stew for Christmas Eve and ham for Christmas day. Although I love them for the holidays, I buy kiffles from a friend who makes them as a fundraiser (I could make them but buying them is the same price as creating them myself and is so much less stressful). I make sugar cookie dough early and refrigerate it. Pick what is important to your family and do those things with great love. Find ways to do the rest simply.

  8. Find time for play and joy. Give of yourself to others. If you don’t have time to work for a cause, consider a charitable gift. I always write a holiday letter to my children’s teacher thanking them for their work and sharing my child’s progress in their class. I try to surprise our mail lady with a little gift. My friends and I have an early holiday lunch before things get crazy. I delight in the holiday books from the library. We have games we only play at Christmas. We have Christmas light tours where we drive around sipping cocoa from a thermos while admiring the light displays. Create a holiday that is meaningful to you and your family.¬†christmas-morning-silhouette-graphicsfairy-1024x884

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3 Comments on "Enjoy the Holidays (Without Losing Your Mind)"

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Athanasia
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Hi, I’ve read about Burns night in a mystery series. She, the main character is of Scottish heritage, so that all figures into the storyline. Lots of kilts and dancing and haggis. My husband’s family makes a dish similar to haggis though in a pig’s stomach. Forgot the name.

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