By: Elisabeth Stitt
This guest post comes to you by Elisabeth Stitt. Author, parent educator, coach and retired school teacher, but first and foremost a mother and a stepmother! To contact Elisabeth about workshops or parent coaching, visit her here!
The Christmas season is full of wonderful hope and possibility but even at its best, the holiday season demands a lot of us. Navigating your way through so that you experience the most joy and the least strife takes some planning. Here’s my take on what to say no to and what to say yes to so that your Christmas will be merry and bright.
1. Say ‘No’ to too much
Sure, you may have the money to get everything on your child’s wish list, but will you be increasing their happiness and enjoyment of what they get? Pretty assuredly not. Getting a mountain of presents all at once makes it almost possible to process. Kids rip into present after present with no time to appreciate what they have gotten. Furthermore, some parents go for quantity rather than quality: Instead of working from a thoughtful list of presents their kids have been expressing an interest in for some time, parents walk into a story, buy three or four presents and call their shopping done. On Christmas morning those presents may just feel like a lot of extra calories–yummy at first sight but not adding any substance. Think back to your childhood. What are the presents that made an impact, that you really remember? I remember the Christmas my parents made my sister and me a dollhouse. Even though I was pretty young, I was aware of how much work they had put in to it, of how excited they were. That was part of what made it special. We spent many, many hours playing with that dollhouse. Another Christmas they bought me a boom box. It was fire engine red and oh, so cool. I listened to the boom box every night going to bed for years. If I got other presents that Christmas, I don’t remember them and I’m sure I could have done without. Don’t measure present giving by number. Give your kids the chance to really savor what they do get.
2. Say ‘No’ for the sake of saying no
Think how many times between now and New Years you are likely to think, well, it’s the holidays, so yes. And that’s true. That’s part of what holidays were traditionally for. People’s lives were so hard that a holiday was a real bright spot. But let’s face it. Our lives are not so bleak. Our level of indulgence is pretty high already. That makes it harder for the special times to stand out as especially sweet. It will help your children appreciate the “once-a-year” quality of the season if you are particularly consistent with your other no’s. Knowing that you will be going to extra parties which mean late nights and too much sugar, say no to staying up 10 minutes later on a school night or to buying their favorite kids’ cereal. In fact, you might even lean the other direction: Start bedtime ten minutes earlier and provide extra servings of spinach and broccoli. Find times when you say no for no other reason than giving your child the chance to fight you. Holidays are stressful. All the events get kids off their sleep and eating schedules. That builds up stress in kids’ bodies. By saying no to one more story or to cookies for after school snack, that may push your child over the emotional edge. Hold your limit and allow the tantrum to come: That will give your kid the chance to blow off steam in a big way. It will be hard to stay with her during the tantrum, but she will be much more pleasant and cooperative when you go the the Christmas party Friday night.
3. Say ‘No’ to should
Christmas is very often a long list of things you have to do. It is not that some of the things on the list aren’t very nice, but there is so much stress around them that they aren’t fun anymore. Believe me. There is very little that MUST be done for Christmas to happen, and the cost of experiencing the season as a SHOULD is very high. So, what’s the solution? You’ve guessed it. Go stand in the Land of Want to, the Land of Get to and consider which part of the Christmas season matters most to you. You can’t do it all. No way. So there is no use just transferring your “should” list to your “get to” list. Really narrow it down. You should go to your neighbor’s party, but do you want to? You should make Christmas cookies for the cookie exchange, but do you want to? You should go see the Nutcracker. It’s a tradition and the kids love it! All these things sound nice, but to what on the list are you saying, “I can’t wait!” Take that “I Can’t Wait” item, and put it in your I want to list. Now plan for it. Make space for it. Make sure you are really going to enjoy it by anticipating what is going to pull you off course–traffic? no parking? your partner’s cooperation?–and see what you can do to plan for it and smooth the way.
4. Say ‘No’ to Christmas falling on Mom’s shoulder entirely
I have had many conversations with women over the last month about the burden of Christmas. But how much of the burden is our own fault? When as parents we set out to create this magical time, then that is what it feels like to our children (and sometimes our spouses)–magic! But it is not magic. It’s a lot of work! And what is the point if it makes us witchier and witchier? However, now that the pattern has been set, if you have taken on too much for Christmas, it may fall to you to retrain your family. How about a family meeting tonight? First step, go back to sorting your list into HAVE TO and GET TO. Remember, Christmas will come and go whether you do anything or not: There really are few have to’s here. So talk as a family as to what is the essence of Christmas for your family. What do people value the most? How do you create that? And what part will EVERY person in the house contribute? Even a toddler can be given a helper job. If saying, “No,” seems too harsh to you, think less. Think this year we are going to decorate less: We are going to just have a wreath on the door and say no to garlands of evergreens on the stairs. We are going to decorate the tree with two boxes of ornaments not four. We are going to make one kind of cookie, not three.
1. Say ‘Yes’ to engaging the kids in the planning
Good for you. You have clarified what is on your “should” list and your “I can’t wait” list. Now it is time to do the same exercise with your kids. Ask each child to write down the five activities/events that are important to him. Work with your child to make sure there are five ideas that are actually doable. Now promise to make at least ONE happen. By asking for five and only promising one, you make that event extra special. If you are lucky, there will be overlap among the kids–and maybe even with your list. Family Want-to’s! Imagine how much happier the kids will be feeling it is their special request being honored! If you have a lot of children, you may have to put tighter parameters around the requests they can make. Perhaps each child gets to request a favorite meal sometime during the season. Maybe Grandma is insisting on ham for Christmas dinner and your oldest really wants you to make your famous beef stew. Good to know that you can honor the meal choice if not the day. For group activities that are going to pull at the family budget, you can work together to choose one. List out all the family events your kids want to do: going to a holiday show, going ice skating, getting your picture taken with Santa, etc. Have each child rank their lists from most desired to least desired. Look at the lists to see if there is a pattern: Can you give everyone her top first or second choice? This process may take a couple of sessions, but imagine at the end of it that every family member has felt heard. You have asked, “What is important about that to you? Why is that your favorite? Why else?” Really take the time to listen to their thinking. You might be able to get some of the needs met in other ways.
2. Say ‘Yes’ to getting a babysitter or extra cleaning help
Yes, of course you need a babysitter for the company holiday party. Lining that up is on your to do list. But what about just those extra date nights that are going to help you get through the holidays? Tell the kids you are holiday shopping and then skeedaddle out of there for a couple of hours in a coffee shop or an extended dinner. If you can’t get your shopping done online, at least make life easier by getting a sitter for a weekday night early in the season when the mall won’t be such a zoo. Is a babysitter too expensive? Offer to take another family’s kids for the evening if they will take yours another night. If you are NOT the parent who usually arranges babysitting, lining a babysitter up may be the most enormous, appreciated gift you can give. Perhaps your family would most benefit from spending money on extra cleaning. Does it stress you out that your in-laws are coming and you want the house beautifully clean for them? I would certainly give up a package under the tree for that kind of peace of mind. Your children will benefit from you being less stressed. Given the choice between more presents and parents who are hanging by a thread, most kids will choose to parents who are in a good mood, ready to be loving and present.
3. Say ‘Yes’ to you!
Underneath all the things you are and will do this season–underneath all the love you give and help you offer and empathy you share, underneath all the thankless and Herculean feats you pull off every single day of every year for the family that you love so dearly — underneath it all, there’s a YOU. And YOU matter. You matter so much that your whole family couldn’t be and do what it wants and needs to do without you. You matter so much that your kids couldn’t survive or succeed or live happy lives making the world a better place if you didn’t do what you do. You even matter so much that people like me dedicate our lives to support you. And you do so much for others, for your family, that it matters how well you take care of YOU, too. So, say yes to self care. Say yes to enough sleep, to eating healthy food, to putting your feet up for ten minutes in the middle of the week. If you apply regular self care, you will have the energy and good will that will make the rest of the season fun.
4. Say ‘Yes’ to awe
These days–whether Christians or not–most Americans participate in aspects of the Holiday season. If yours is not a family that worships regularly, you might have to work extra hard to find meaning in all the frenzied activity. Don’t worry about the specifics of the spirituality but do look for the sense of awe. Look for beauty–in decorations, in colored lights, in the nighttime sky, in a candle flickering in the window. Look for examples of people’s kindness. Maybe people only do things in the spirit of Christmas when they should be helping year round, but I’m just glad that they are reaching out for whatever reason. Over my years in the classroom, I have seen students touched by the season who are really moved by being ask to reach outside themselves and their own pleasure. I think they are looking for that awe, the respect you feel when you are aware of how strong people have to be–of their challenges and burdens, of the stunning examples of how they push on despite life being hard. Hearing those stories has a profound effect on me and my students, causing us to focus on being grateful for each other and for all we have. Finding moments to let that awe fill you is the best thing of all to say yes to.