Christmas: to Stay or Not to Stay, That is the Question?
With the traditional time upon us when families come together to celebrate Christmas I have been talking to friends about their plans and preparations for this holiday season. It does not surprise me that they speak of feeling stressed by the prospect of organising celebrations; the kids, their spouses, the grandparents, Father Christmas or equivalent*, the presents, the food and usually the relocation of all of the above. But what I’m beginning to hear more of is how much parents feel a growing sense of resentment, especially as their children grow into their teens, that maybe, just maybe all the expense and time spent on keeping everyone happy is not really appreciated. The parents who seem to feel this most are often faced with the dilemma of which set of relatives they want to or perhaps feel obliged to visit. When you include friends into the mix the reality is often a patchwork Christmas of moving families from one place to another or alternatively staying in expensive accommodation hoping people will come to you. Parents of older children who often have more activities and schoolwork during term time can also face the reality that teens would rather stay at home, preferably in their bedrooms, rather than embark on this adventure.
It is especially true for many of us who live away from our extended families and friends that this indeed should be a time of reconnection and relaxation with the people we love. However, the belief that these holidays should be all about happy families can create a huge collective burden on parents (and kids) to deliver a reality that fits the image on the chocolate box. From all sides we are bombarded with this image of the perfect family Christmas. Facebook alone can be a constant source of ‘Jolly Joneses’ that everyone is trying to keep up with. Under such pressure it is not surprising that nerves get frayed and patience runs out. How many times have you heard the words on your lips when addressing your kids (or spouse) “for goodness sake can’t you just… behave yourselves…”, “put down that phone b***** phone”, “look at Granny when she talks to you”, “say thank you… as if you mean it!”, “Stop… (delete where appropriate – multiple answers possible)”.
Don’t get me wrong I believe that quality time with extended family is really important for children particularly if they live in another country. But we need to remember that although wrapped up in all the excitement of Christmas, it can also be stressful for our children too. Often they will need to move around and see lots of people maybe unfamiliar to them, or alternatively have their space invaded with the added expectations of sharing and looking after guests. This is not as exciting as it may seem to all children. Often routines and schedules are mixed up in the process, which can lead to over tiredness and possible meltdowns. Family get-togethers, partnered with rich food and alcohol, are notorious times for bringing up old wounds, acting out old patterns of communication, and don’t even get me onto Brexit! Our children pick up on this tension and lets face it who doesn’t retreat into their child self when back in their parents house. With the best intention in the world it can all end up in tears.
So this year I’d like to advocate a new kind of family holiday. Let’s try to be more gentle with our expectations of ourselves, our children, grandparents and extended families. Why not consider scheduling in some time with just your partner, your kids and most importantly some quality time for yourself while you are away. This can also be important if you are staying too. It’s really worth taking the opportunity in advance to discuss what you all would like to do over the holiday period and create an itinerary for people you intend to visit or stay with. All children should be encouraged to take part in this discussion even little ones will feel part of something important if involved. You can extend this discussion to people staying with you or people you might be staying with (e.g. grandparents or close relatives). By asking everyone what they would like to do, and setting realistic expectations of what can be done within time and budget, you may avoid later disappointment and possible anguish. Within this process give yourself permission to say no to over-extending yourself and your family. You know your kids better than anyone else. If they need routine try to keep to it at least for some of the time. Don’t forget they also need quality time with grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins too. Why not get them or other extended family members to baby-sit overnight and allow yourselves some time away with your partner.
We have decided to remain in Luxembourg this Christmas. Knowing this in advance we were lucky enough to be able to arrange for grandparents to visit in the quieter time before Christmas instead. This way we can catch up on Skype and have a more relaxed time with other members of our extended family over another vacation. We will be sad not to be with them but it feels like the right choice for our little family here. We are happy to find that many of our friends will be having a ‘Staycation’ too. This may of course be due to the local schools breaking up late or may something else. I’m just looking forward to afternoons playing board games and charades with them over steaming hot chocolate or mulled wine. Christmas is after all about the celebration of the birth of a child into a community. I am so grateful to find my community here. So wherever you are going or staying this holiday remember as they say it still takes a village to raise a child.
*It’s enough to make you want to go loco – St Nicolas is so much more practical in early December, than hauling everything half way across the globe.
Article by: Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Friday 9th December, 2016
Passage is offering a “Time Out for Parents” in the Spring
If like us, you would love to take a breather after the busy holiday period… to re-establish a harmonious family balance… and want to build on your parenting skills, then why not consider our ‘Time Out for Parents’ course.
In February 2017, Passage will running a course for parents of children 0-9 years. The ‘Time Out for Parents’ course aims to encourage and build confidence in your parenting skills. We do this by recognising the good and positive things you are already doing, as well as helping you to think about changes you might want to make. We will also discuss latest research around child development and neuroscience. This six-week course was designed by Positive Parenting (Care for the Family – UK).
The course itself will include discussions around what children really need:
- Developing Emotional Security
- Helping your child with Problem Solving and Keeping Safe
- and most importantly Keeping Sane as a Parent
The course will be led by our own Lynn Frank BSc. (Hons. Psych) MSc. (Health Promotion), who is a Licensed Positive Parenting (Care for the Family UK) facilitator. Lynn is psychologist with over 20 years experience of working with groups and individuals, children and parents facing the challenges of modern day living.
For further information and registration details please visit this link.