The festive season can be a wonderful time. It's a season of joy, excitement and anticipation filled with family, food, gifts and celebration. Yet many can dread this time of year. Perhaps that’s you today. Maybe you’re anxious about family tensions or you’re navigating a separation for the first time, maybe you're grieving the loss of someone or feeling the financial strain this year more than ever. It may just feel like a hectic time ahead where you’re managing work, childcare and some very tired yet excited children. So how can we not only 'survive' this festive season, but also enjoy it too? Here's our guide:
1. Manage your expectations
So much of our disappointments or frustrations this time of year come from what our expectations are. Perhaps you have high expectations of yourself and what you’ll be able to achieve in the holidays. Or maybe you feel a pressure from your children’s expectations and feel you won’t be able to deliver. It could be that the expectations from extended family every year cause you to stretch yourself, trying to keep everyone happy. Social media can often heighten our high expectations as we look at the lives of others and feel we should be doing the same.
As you approach the festive season try to have realistic expectations for yourself but also your children too. What gifts are manageable this year, and what might need to be saved up for? Which family and friends are you able to see and which ones might need to wait until the new year? What expectations can you let go of? Try to change your perspective from what you feel you should do to what’s best for your family and particularly your children.
2. Prepare as a family
The festive season will be much more enjoyable for you and your family if you feel well prepared. There’s nothing quite like the fluster of dragging your children round the shops a few days before Christmas fitting in some last minute shopping. Try to think of ways to make life easier for yourself as you approach the holidays and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others if you need it.
You can involve the children in your planning and preparation too. Sit down as a family and talk about the things you’d all like to do, set realistic budgets for gifts, share jobs out amongst the family so that the responsibility is shared. They will love being involved and will feel their input is valued. You could have a holiday calendar where everyone can see what the plan is each day or which family members are visiting when. This will help to manage everyone’s expectations and avoid any unnecessary surprises. This is especially helpful in separated families where the children will be sharing their holiday time between parents.
3. Maintain Routines
Children thrive when they're in established patterns and routines. Holidays can be difficult times then, as routines are often harder to maintain or are abandoned altogether. It can be unsettling for children when things aren’t as they usually are or they feel they’re constantly adapting to change. You know your children best, and so you will know what level of structure is most appropriate for them.
If you know your child will be distressed or unsettled by the lack of routines during the holiday season try to find ways to keep an element of structure in your week. As you take time to prepare as a family, talk to your child about how the holidays will be different, what components of their usual routine will still be there and ask them what would best help them. Think through how you can fit in your holiday or travel plans around their routines. If you prioritise regular meal times, sufficient sleep, getting outside, socialising and down time during your week, your child will adapt much better to the change of routines and you’ll all enjoy the holiday much more. For some children it may be that a timetable is a helpful way for them to see what’s happening throughout the day. If they are staying with other family members during the holidays too, try to communicate well with them about the patterns you’re trying to maintain.
4. Remember what's important
In the business of the festive season it can be easy to forget what’s really important. Whilst there is much that will fight for your attention this time of year, try to prioritise what matters most. So much of the time we think our children need more stuff or extravagant experiences, when what’s most important to them is time with their family. Try to focus on them this festive season, carving out time in your holidays for your family, whoever that might be. That might involve decorating the tree, going out for a walk, visiting a carol service, playing games, baking or watching films together. Whatever your children enjoy, find time to do it together.
Maybe this is the first year of sharing time with your child with an ex-partner. As you deal with the pain and difficulty of this, try to focus on the time you do have with your child rather than the time you don’t. Create new traditions with them as you all adjust to the change, recognising that this may be hard for all of you.
As we enter this festive season, try to be kind to yourself and don't be afraid to reach out if you need some help. The holidays will be much more enjoyable if you’re able to manage your expectations, feel prepared and maintain some of your routines. Most importantly though, enjoy quality time with your children this year. Try not to be so distracted by everything else going on, that you miss the things that matter most.