For many of us with not-quite-typical kids, holidays can be a stressful time. Different food, different mealtimes, houseguests, travel, extra activities, so many people, and so much busy-ness.
Does that work for you and your family? If so, that’s fantastic. Keep at it. Don’t change a thing.
But maybe, instead, you feel stress. Or the ever-present worry that you’re not doing enough. Or maybe that you’re doing too much. Or that you’re missing something. Or that you could be enjoying this season more than you are. Or that your KIDS could be enjoying this season more than they are.
How do you fix this, though?
At the risk of getting a particular song stuck in your head, I think you have to start by letting it go. Let it ALL go.
Just dump it all.
Build your holiday season from the ground up.
I wanted to say “build your perfect holiday season from the ground up,” but that’s not really very realistic. For many of us, what our kids can handle – or what is safe for our kids – conflicts with what we parents really want. So let’s let go of that, too. Let go of the idea of a perfect holiday.
How about “build your realistically doable and emotionally comforting holiday from the ground up”?
I bet you’d like this next part to be all about how you do that. But I don’t know how you do that. I mean, I can make it sound all easy – balance your needs and your kids’ needs and do what works best for you!!
Of course it’s not that easy. I don’t know how you finish. But I do know you start by letting go of all of the “should” statements about the holidays. “We should (whatever).” Let them go.
For our family, we still do a few of the “should” things. We have local family and we should see local family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we are able to accommodate Teddy’s needs (and the needs of the other kids) into our “should”ing. For example, when we host Thanksgiving, Teddy is not required to be in the rooms with all the people the whole time. He can hide out in his bedroom with a timer for a while, but then he has to join the group for a while (usually with a timer) and we go back and forth like that. He needs practice with groups of people, but it gets overwhelming quickly. This strategy helps integrate my husband’s need to celebrate holidays with his family and our son’s need to get a break from the overwhelm of too many people in his home.
We’ve completely let go of most Christmas “should”s. We should go enjoy some of the holiday events in our community…but there are so many germs and honestly few of our family really enjoy those things. We should go to Christmas Eve service…but so many people go to church on Christmas Eve when they’re sick and it isn’t worth getting the flu for. We should visit more far-flung family…but travel is hard and I really don’t enjoy it.
Instead, we focus on activities that we all enjoy and that are realistic for our family at this phase in our lives. We make Christmas cookies, because all three kids (plus an extra kid who lives next door!) really enjoy this activity and it’s doable for me without too much stress. We do a handful of Christmas crafts, but we abandon them quickly if the kids aren’t interested. We watch a lot of Christmas movies and we have a good time with snack food while we decorate our Christmas tree.
It’s easy to think we should have more decorations, but we don’t enjoy the process of decorating, we really don’t enjoy the process of un-decrating, and extra decorations don’t add anything to our daily happiness… so we don’t do it. I used to think we should do more service projects over the holidays, since that’s the thing to do, but it’s actually easier for us to do service projects and volunteering when it is NOT Christmas – and service organizations are usually in more need of volunteers at other times of the year, anyway. Maybe we should spend more time with extended family, but it’s better for us as a family to spend that time together with just us. We don’t get enough relaxed “just us” time as it is. Most people believe they should keep presents a secret. But that doesn’t always work for us. Knowing there are secret presents in the house REALLY bugs Teddy. So we let him know what some of his presents are in advance, and keep the rest a super secret. Once he knows what a few of them are, he’s less anxious about the whole present thing and can enjoy the anticipation.
This is what works for our family. What works for your family? Why don’t you try letting go of all the “shoulds” of the holiday season and give yourself the freedom to find out?