How to Have a (Relatively) Stress-Free Holiday Season

As joyous as the holiday season is intended to be, the family obligations and celebrations that accompany this festive time of year can be a source of stress for today’s parents. From questioning our parenting choices at family gatherings to serving holiday dinners right in the middle of naptime, relatives – even those with the best of intentions – tend to complicate our already hectic holidays.           

Wondering how to enjoy spending time with your nearest and dearest this holiday season, while also meeting the needs of your immediate family? Remember these simple rules for keeping your holidays (relatively) stress-free.

Put Your Own Family First. When making holiday plans, encourage relatives to recognize that disrupted nap schedules, bedtime delays and pre-mealtime meltdowns are no laughing matter. Be flexible when you can, but also realize that trying to placate extended family members at the expense of your own children can spell disaster.

If you normally fly cross-country to see your parents at Christmas but have a newborn this year, ask your family to visit you instead. If driving around town to three different holiday dinners leads to a cranky, sleep-deprived toddler, opt to stay home and celebrate by yourselves for a change. Kids are little for only a short time, and you will soon have the flexibility to accommodate the wishes of your extended family once again.  

Be Smart About Your Schedule. Making holiday plans that appease all sides of the family can be difficult, especially if your family is a large one. When trying to come up with a schedule that makes sense, consider the following options:

·         Play hostess. Invite all of your relatives to celebrate under your roof.  Have the meal catered or plan a potluck if you prefer not to do all the cooking.   

·         Alternate holidays. If there isn’t enough time in the day to spend with both sides of your family, try alternating holidays. Visit one side of the family one year, and the other side the next. Or consistently spend Thanksgiving with one side, and Christmas with the other.

·         Ignore the calendar. Who says Thanksgiving has to be celebrated on a Thursday, or Christmas presents opened only on Christmas Day?  Celebrate with some of your family on the actual holiday, and plan a second celebration with other relatives at a time that is convenient for you.

Own Your Choices. Criticism of our parenting choices (whether real or perceived) is one of the biggest sources of holiday stress for parents of growing children. Instead of feeling hurt or offended by such comments, have confidence in your choices and remember your reasons for making them.

Master the art of smiling politely and ignoring any unsolicited advice you receive. If you feel the need to respond, the phrase “This is what works for our family” will often suffice.

Set an Example. Tensions run high during the busy holiday season, and long-standing family dynamics can further complicate any disagreements that arise. Instead of letting ancient family squabbles ruin your holiday, avoid contentious topics and focus on the happy memories you all share.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your kids are watching how you behave at family gatherings. Set an example you would be proud for them to follow.

Feel the Love. A positive attitude has to begin with you. Instead of thinking about how your family drives you crazy, reflect on the little things they do that prove how much they love you. You will be happier and enjoy the holidays more when you realize that most relatives genuinely mean well and want what is best for you and your children – even if their words or actions seem to imply otherwise.  

Embrace Imperfection. The holiday season is never going to be entirely stress-free, especially when family is involved. No matter how well you plan or how calm you remain, some aspect of your holiday will inevitably go awry. Siblings will argue. In-laws will criticize. Kids will have meltdowns.

But when you learn to let go of unrealistic expectations and embrace the imperfection that surrounds you, you start to realize that sometimes it’s that very lack of perfection that makes the holidays – and your relatives – worth celebrating. 

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