Are you feeling it? The tension compounding as the holiday season gets close?
I remember very well the stress of the first two Christmas’s of my first born’s life. If I could only use one word to describe how I felt, it would be PRESSURE.
Pressure to give all my relatives ample visitation time with our new son, and pressure to have my son meet their expectations.
Running around and coordinating these family visits added unnecessary stress to our holiday. My highly-sensitive son of course felt all the stress I was emitting, and he responded in kind. I shudder to remember hiding out in his bedroom trying to get him down for a nap in his crib with seven or so family members in our living room.
My son at the time was three-and-a -half months old. He did not want to be put down, and I wanted to save face, get him in that crib and go be a merry hostess. Instead, I just stayed in his room, rocking and rocking him until everyone eventually awkwardly left. I didn't even get to say goodbye.
Another not-so-fond memory of that same year, was trying to sit down for Christmas dinner at my in-laws. I put my son down in his bassinet, placed the bassinet in a spare room, and sat down to enjoy some food and conversation.
My 7-year-old niece could not resist sneaking off to peek in at him, which of course woke him immediately and I was then tasked with consoling a major crying jag only to eat a cold dinner an hour later when everyone was done.
If I could turn back time, I would be armed with appropriate expectations of myself, and my son. I would have happily put him in a baby-carrier when my family was over, and not stressed so much about that damn crib nap.
Same with at my in-laws, he could have simply fallen asleep in a wrap while I did my best not to drop any mashed potatoes on his head 🙂
When our son turned two, the holiday stress morphed. He was always sensitive to noise and energy, so we spent most of our visits at the in-laws upstairs appearing anti-social. I felt resentful of him keeping me from normalcy, which is how I felt at the time.
At two, crying jags evolved into constant nursing and tantrums. Throwing himself on the floor, whining, and screaming at what felt like, “the smallest thing”, like music coming on, unwrapping a toy he found offensive, or someone speaking too loud. But things are different for us now. I learned something pretty interesting. I learned that the act of opening presents is actually stressful for children.
That got me thinking... if opening presents is stressful, what else would be stressful? Probably being off their routine, excessive travel, and having less attention from their primary attachment figures who are maybe feeling off kilter themselves.
What really struck me around my first born’s third year, was something I read in another article which I began sharing every holiday season thereafter. The article, “Can we Please Stop Gaslighting our Kids” says, “As you plan for a “fun” holiday season, try to think about those plans from your kid’s perspective. Are these activities really fun for your kids or things you think they should have fun doing?” Right.
The holidays are supposed to be fun for our kids, right? Yet, we are putting them into situation after situation that is stress inducing, and then getting upset when as infants they are clingy and miserable, and as toddlers they are misbehaving.
I have some solutions. I am not trying to tell you how you should spend your holidays, rather, I want to share some things my family has begun implementing to bring less stress and more joy into our holidays, while respecting our family’s experience as well.
We are much more chill with the gifts.
Even though earlier I mentioned opening gifts is a proven stressor, I am definitely NOT saying that kids should not get gifts. But something I noticed early on with my son, was that at Christmas we would push him into continually opening gift after gift, rather than letting him just have an hour of fun with that stocking stuffer he found awesome.
We kept pushing him into sensory overload, and then getting frustrated when he misbehaved. What a face-palm when I look back on that. Now, we don’t worry if presents are still unopened on New Years Day. Whatever!! Who cares?
We keep travel to a minimum.
We used to try to see everyone on Christmas Day, all of the family. Now, we have figured out a plan that is simple, and it is now a tradition we look forward to.
It is important to us that our kids sleep at home on Christmas Eve, and also that we have lots of down time, and time that is just us, to play and to be.
We honour nap time and bedtime.We like to make sure any outings take place after a nap. That way we can enjoy a lazy morning, and everyone can recharge during nap-time. Any visits happen after 3pm and end by 8pm, and that reduces a ton of unnecessary stress.
We also stopped doing sleepovers during the holidays. We found that to be a big stressor that our eldest was able to articulate as he got more verbal. Being highly sensitive, he does not sleep well when he is not at home.
We choose moments (and people) over things.
We used to “should” on ourselves about all the things we had to do to do Christmas right. Now things are much simpler.
Our kids don’t want a crap ton of stuff, and we do not either. Not many people do, we discovered. We stopped doing stockings for the adults, we ask for gifts that are “experiences” and we pay careful attention to select a fewer gifts that have deeper meaning.
In the past I just thought you needed to have a mountain of gifts under the tree, but now I know that our own peace and presence is MUCH more important to our relationships than material possessions.
Of course, we all have different values and temperaments and traditions. What are your stressors, and what triggers your little ones (change, lack of routine, unrealistic expectations, disrupted schedule, seeing strangers etc.).
The idea is to think critically about what you want your holidays to be. What memories are you creating? How can you experience a holiday season that brings you and your little ones magic and connection?
I hope to strengthen your intuition around this time of year, and give you that extra bit of confidence to say “no” when you need to, and make compromises that respect everyone’s needs and rights.