It’s the most wonderful time of the year — and some would argue, the most stressful. You vow that this year will be different. But how? There are cards to mail, presents to wrap, cookies to bake, parties and programs to attend, and let’s not forget all the festive, memorable outings you can’t possibly miss.
How do you manage to fit all the magic of the holiday into just one little month without turning into the Grinch?
To help make this holiday season the winter wonderland you have been dreaming of (and help keep the Grinch at bay), we’ve asked two experts for advice on how to handle potentially stressful situations you may find yourself facing this time of year.
Stressful Situation #1
Every year, you and your spouse travel back home for Christmas. This year, you would like for your children to wake up in their own beds on Christmas day. More than likely, this will hurt your parents’ feelings. You are nervous to have the conversation, but feel strongly about the importance of making these special memories in your own home with your family.
Kate A. Pedersen, MSW, LCSW, with CenterPoint Counseling: This situation can feel like a delicate dance. It’s important to express your needs and wants. If you feel comfortable doing so, invite them to spend Christmas with your family for part, or all, of the day. They may jump at the chance to start traditions with the children. Refocusing on the little ones can be a refreshing change of pace.
Kate Fisch, LCSW, with Northside Mental Health: Most parents can relate to wanting their children to experience the magic of Christmas morning. Share your plans of staying home early, so they have time to get used to the idea. If they give you any push back, remind them of how special that experience was for you and how you would like to create those same experiences with your own kids – especially while they still believe in the magic of Christmas. Soon enough, all they will want for Christmas are Abercrombie and Fitch gift certificates, the latest Apple gadget and lots of space and independence. Let your parents know your plans (tell them, don’t ask), and remind them in just a few years (when the magic of Christmas has extinguished), you and your family might be open to traveling to see them for the holidays once again.
Stressful Situation #2
As the holidays are approaching and you begin to think about everything that needs to be accomplished, your anxiety begins to sky rocket. You want to be less frazzled and enjoy the season, but everything feels important. Maybe this will be the year you don’t try to do it all. What do you say “no” to? Won’t you be letting people down?
Pedersen: The hustle and bustle can be exhilarating and exhausting, and the lack of presence with your loved ones will be felt. With each invitation to a party, tradition to continue, or meal to make, ask yourself, “Will this bring me peace and joy?” If the answer is “no” and feels out of obligation, do not do it. Do not overcommit and you won’t have to worry about letting others down. Also, make it a priority to not let yourself down. Do not allow family or friends to push you to do something after you have set a boundary.
Fisch: Thanks to all the media messages we are exposed to, we feel a lot of pressure these days to live up to false cultural expectations for the holiday season. Best advice: at all costs, please refrain from scrolling through your Facebook feed while watching HGTV, just after flipping through the holiday special issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Instead, take a moment to reflect on what the season really means to you, and say goodbye to activities and obligations that do not align with your own sense of holiday spirit. Most importantly, be OK with not doing it all. The anxiety created by trying to be a holiday superstar only takes us away from the moment.
Stressful Situation #3
Both your and your husband’s parents are divorced. You have a LOT of family to visit and only so much time. It feels rushed to try to cram it all into two days and would prefer to get together either before or after the holiday. You aren’t sure what your family will think and don’t want to disrupt everyone’s holiday plans. On the other hand, you don’t think you can handle another year of rushing from place to place. Does the date we get together really matter? What matters is that we all spend quality time together. Right?
Pedersen: Your parents made the decision to get divorced — not you. While you have tried to be amenable to going to multiple houses throughout your life – as an adult, you can set limits. Suggest other times to celebrate and gather. If you feel comfortable, invite one set of parents from each side for one holiday celebration and the other set for a different celebration. If you are lucky enough that your parents get along, you may not have to separate the holidays at all!
Fisch: Running around, ignoring what works best and trying to please everyone just creates feelings of resentment that last long after the season is over. Not worth it. Instead, take a moment to talk directly with your parents. Tell them about the toll it takes to try and visit everyone. Ask them for their advice. What would they do if in your situation? Regardless if you use their advice, you might get bonus points for asking; points that might cancel out hurt feelings later. In the end, you are not responsible for your parents’ feelings. If your parent’s feelings are hurt, empathize with their disappointment while simultaneously holding firm to reducing the holiday run around.
Stressful Situation #4
You have some extended family members who can get a little rowdy over the holidays. Sometimes they drink a little too much and speak a little too loudly about things that aren’t always the best for little ears. They are highly opinionated and their opinions don’t always align with your family beliefs and values.
Pedersen: This situation is another delicate balance. It’s important to model for your children tolerance and different points of view, and to discuss with your children why “in this house, we believe _____.” However, if you feel comfortable and are at your house, it could be a good opportunity to model setting boundaries. You can say to your extended family, “We don’t use that type of language here,” or “We don’t talk about people like that in this house.” Hopefully, your extended family will honor your wishes and it will feel as simple as saying something lighter like, “Please pass the salt and pepper.”
Fisch: This can be a tough situation. Talk to your kids beforehand about what to expect. This way, they know ahead of time that any misbehavior on the part of your extended family is not in line with your family’s values and beliefs. Then, when Uncle Tim has one too many, and begins spouting off about some controversial topic, your kids will know not to take his behavior seriously. Alternatively, you can take a deep breath and just let it go. No matter your efforts, you cannot shield your kids forever. Instead, trust yourself as their parent and know that you will be there to help them sort out what is appropriate and what is not, based on your family’s personal beliefs and value system. Of course, if all else fails, you can always plan to be the first to arrive at the family event and leave early. Alcohol-infused family shenanigans tend to occur towards the end of the event. Hopefully, you will be long gone beforehand.
Whether you bake 100 cookies and deliver them to every person you know, or choose not to bake a single thing — that’s OK. Have conversations and decide what is best for your family this holiday season. Not everything in life is Pinterest-perfect. The important thing is being with those you love, setting healthy boundaries and celebrating the beauty of the season as stress-free as possible — together.