family time

Holiday Parenting
Coping with Holiday Stress

It's that time already. Time to start thinking about cooking, cleaning, buying and wrapping gifts, and how to make this holiday season memorable for our families. If you are anything like me you have what I call a "Walton mentality" when it comes to holidays. I am very invested in family and tend to fantasize about how wonderful the holidays will be. In my mind I see a table laden with scrumptious food, all homemade of course; clean, beautifully dressed children, playing calmly with each other; and extended family members chatting, laughing and enjoying a single glass of wine, while I calmly serve, hostess, and take the time to hug each of my children. In reality, I am harried and exhausted, the children are squabbling, and some relatives are trying not to argue. I do manage to take the time to hug each of my children.

As parents, we put ourselves under great stress during the holidays. Our expectations of ourselves can be unrealistic and we often find our-selves feeling overwhelmed and depressed because we can rarely live up to our expectations. These tips may help you better cope with holiday stress and focus your energies on the really important things in life, like hugging your children.

  1. Plan ahead of time: Make a schedule and keep to it. Start planning four to six weeks in advance. Put together a menu and baking or cooking any item that can be frozen early. Buy gifts when you see things on sale and wrap and put the gifts away as soon as you get them home, to minimize last minute shopping.

  2. Make lists and check off items as you complete them. Lists help you feel in control. Although seeing a lot of items on a list may be overwhelming, crossing the items off the list will give you a sense of completion and closure.

  3. Honor the traditions, but be "mom-my friendly:" Although it is important to respect and honor ritual, it is not necessary to cook a ten course meal. Continue to honor family traditions by putting your energy and time into making special dishes like "Nana's sour cream coffee cake," but reduce your time in the kitchen by purchasing common foods from the grocer or specialty store when you can. Holidays are not about food, but about being with the people I love.

  4. Involve children in holiday preparation: Our children love to be with us, to imitate us, and to please us. For many of us the very same reason that holidays are so stressful is also the reason we knock ourselves out - our children. So why not involve the children in creating the holiday atmosphere? Instead of spending hours ironing a crisp linen tablecloth, let the children design their own on an old white sheet. Permanent fabric crayons allow children the freedom to create a holiday tablecloth without making too much of a mess. You can use the sheet year after year, the kids really feel proud, and you save time and money on holiday decorations. Or let the children bake or help you set the table. Even a pre-schooler can follow simple directions. Set one place setting at the table and allow your child to do four other settings. And if it isn't perfect, so what? Use pretty paper and let all the guests know Ashley set the table. Her pride will shine though and her behavior during the day will indicate how proud she is for being a helpmate.

After many years of trying to do it all during the holidays, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff and to allow myself the space to be less than perfect. As long as we can help build family memories, as long as we can laugh, and as long as we can hug our children, we will succeed.

Donna Gordon is a clinical social worker. She works for Jewish Family Service and is a school social worker at various day schools in the Greater New Haven area.


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