It is aptly named the 'silly season' for a reason; all routine and rationale goes out the window, as we travel huge distances to spend time with people we don't often see, smiling inanely, and telling everyone what a wonderful time we're having! Not to mention the whopping £26 billion we spend on food, drink, gifts, and decorations. Add to this the enormous sense of pressure we feel, as mothers, to make the day perfect and extra special for everyone. It's no surprise to hear the Samaritans report a 28% increase in phone calls to them in January and divorce lawyers experience their busiest day on 8th January. So how can we manage this crazy time, without being sucked in to the madness? By taking it one day at a time and sticking to these 5 simple principles, which I have followed since having children of my own. I can honestly say they have made the festive season stay that way, festive. Consider them my early Christmas present to you. Enjoy.
1. Plan ahead
I've never been a great one for writing detailed 'to-do' lists but when it comes to organising my children, and now my dogs as we travel, I am all over it! Now I don't mean lists of what needs to be packed, purchased, or taken. I'm talking about the more important issues of meal times, and ways of keeping them occupied in their down time, or when they inevitably become bored. Being someone who plans their whole day around where they'll get their next meal I am painfully aware of the need to have food readily available on all trips, and even when we are at home too! So I keep an assortment of snacks in the car and plan our departure times a short time after a main meal, to avoid having to stop too many times for more food. I always talk to the children in advance about our plans, particularly points in the day where they might have to be on their best behaviour or there may be a danger of boredom. We discuss ways they could keep themselves occupied, and what is allowed, so they can pack accordingly. In my experience the whole issue and battles around technology use over Christmas comes from a failure to plan in advance and agree what will and will not be permitted.
2. Be realistic
Christmas is all about a break with routine, so be realistic in your expectations of your children. You should not expect an 8 year old child, for example, to sit through an entire 4-course meal, so save yourself the inevitable stresses enforcing their 'sitting nicely' and agree in advance when they are allowed to get down. More importantly, remember to praise them for the courses they were able to sit through. Equally, do not force your children to make 'small-talk', shake hands, and look people in the eye when they talk, if they don't see your visitors that often, or they are shy. There are other more important battles which you should focus on, such as manners, kindness, and being inclusive to younger visitors, who they might not ordinarily choose to play with. This rule applies to adults also!
Also be realistic about what you can manage to do in one day; don't bite off more than you can chew and become resentful with others for not reading your mind and knowing what they could or should have done to help. Most of the arguments and stresses throughout Christmas are around the issue of unrealistic expectations.
3. Have a back-up plan
Always always have a back up plan and exit strategy should things go wrong. Sometimes it's better to admit it's not going to be your day than it is to battle on regardless just because it's Christmas and Great Aunt Mabel has flown over from the other side of the world to see you and your children! The back up plan should be agreed with your other half and also your host, should you be visiting others. If it all goes horribly wrong at home then there's no shame in getting your children to don their pyjamas and watch a movie upstairs, or have an early night if necessary. It's about agreeing which battles are worth having and which you will choose to fight another day, when it matters more. Parenting is about making the best decisions in any given situation. Drop the illusion of perfect-parenting, always, and especially at Christmas!
4. Try not to take things too seriously
I know this is easier said than done but the festive period is a series of days, like any other, with enormous amounts of self-imposed pressure, if we allow it. So choose to remember that being nice to Great Uncle Digby, despite his crabbiness, is only for a few days, your house doesn't; need to look magazine picture-perfect; it's just not how people live, and children are children. They are meant to be loud, messy, and overexcited because it's their school holidays, they've been plied them with all sorts of sugary foods, and they want to play obsessively with all their new toys and games.
Be kind to yourself by scheduling in some downtime each day; whether you sit quietly and read a book, go for a run, take out your yoga mat, soak in the bath, or just zone out in front of your favourite film. You can't keep everyone and everything together if you are not prioritising your needs too.
5. Have those difficult conversations in advance
This is the most important of all my five principles, but it is often the one parents forget or avoid. This is all about being honest with yourself first and foremost about what the festive period is going to entail for you and your family. Are you spending the holiday with people you want to be with, or people you feel duty-bound to spend time with? Are you battling with one of your children over their excessive use of technology, their management of their emotions, pushing boundaries, going to bed when you ask them? Are you trying to please everyone by travelling the depth and breadth of the country, when all you really want to do is be at home? Now this principle begins early, when the invitations for the festive period arrive, but there's no time like the present, so look to see what can be done with this year's plans. Start by deciding, which commitments you genuinely want or need to honour, and then politely apologise for having to cancel the others. Then take a cold hard look at the commitments you plan to fulfil; are there some conversations, which need to be had about your hosts treatment of your children? Do they expect them to be little angels or do they ply them with copious amounts of sugar then complain about their behaviour? The only way to avoid issues is to have those conversations in advance. For the high-expection hosts explain what is reasonable to expect from your children and how you will need to modify the plans to make it fun for everyone. For the overindulgent host you might explain you have noticed your child isn't always on their best behaviour with too many sweet foods, so you would appreciate their help in moderating their consumption, so everyone can enjoy the day. It'll feel awkward at first but it will avoid the inevitable resentment and make the day so much easier for everyone.
I could offer you a whole host of additional principles but these really have been my life-savers over the years and I sincerely hope they serve you well over the festive season also. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
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