As I write this there is a rainy snow falling and it is cold outside. It has my mind wandering to the upcoming holidays.
I know we're weeks away from Thanksgiving, but before you know it we'll be popping that turkey in the oven and making our lists and checking them twice.
So what's this got to do with parenting?
The holidays are a time of family gatherings, holiday traditions, time for fun with the kids and all the magic of the season.
It can also be a time of stress. BIG stress! There are so many demands on us as parents. Not only are we balancing all the usual chaos of kids, laundry, work, etc. Now we're adding shopping, decorating and big family get togethers on the to-do list.
It's a time for family dinners and gatherings!
My situation is a bit unique within my sibling group. I am the only one of the 5 of us who moved away from the area we grew up near.
When my husband and I married, we ended up living 6 hours away from where all of our extended family lives due to my husband's job. This meant trips back and forth every Thanksgiving and Christmas to be with family for the holidays. As the kids came, we kept up the tradition of going back for both holidays.
Once we added a 3rd kiddo, I got tired! lol It was a lot of packing and traveling (and keeping 3 kids happy in the car for 6 hours before the days of portable dvd players!). Get there, unpack, visit, stay a few nights living out of suitcases and then repacking to head back home to unpack.
It was exhausting and honestly, it made it hard to relax and enjoy the time my husband had off from work. While we loved being with everyone, the traveling, sleepless nights and cranky kids wasn't any fun. Eventually we made the difficult decision to stop making the Thanksgiving trips home.
Feeling all the feelings!
I won't lie to you, it felt wrong to change what we had been doing year after year. I struggled with not being with our extended family for Thanksgiving. I felt guilty breaking the tradition. I was worried we would hurt everyone's feelings.
It also felt strange on that first Thanksgiving day in our home. Instead of waking up at my parents' or my in-law's home, we woke up in our own beds. Dinner felt like "just another meal" and we were a little lost on what to do with ourselves that day.
So, we did what we needed to do...
Time for something that fit "us"
We created our own traditions while keeping some from our family gatherings back home
We decided that we would watch the Macy's parade, relax and play games, then have dinner. One thing the kids insisted on was making Nana's punch (my mom's strawberry, ice cream and Sprite mix) and her homemade stuffing. The house smells so good once that's in the oven!
After dinner we got busy decorating our home for Christmas. In fact, we even took it a step further and the kids began decorating the family room tree with all the ornaments they'd been given over the years while Mike and I decorated the living room tree.
I LOVE hearing the kids talk about the memories with the ornaments, or just chatting about their friends or the latest movie they saw. It was their time together. Then we'd set up the rest of the Christmas lights and decorations around the house. Together we'd taken what felt like a lonely day (because we weren't "back home" with everyone) and made it into our own version of a traditional-filled day.
I'm sharing all this because, as a coach, I wanted to let you know that it's okay to make a decision that benefits your family even if it doesn't fit the expectations of your extended family.
Yes, you might be "kicking the bee hive" but ask yourself, "Are we happy? Is all this stress good for us?" and "Is this what's best for our own branch of the family tree?"
It's hard! I felt so many feelings of sadness, guilt and even being left out (which, of course, was my own doing). I felt awful that my kids were missing out on time with all 4 of their grandparents and the herd of relatives on my side and Mike's sister and her family as well.
Paying a price
Will you get push back? Possibly. When we change what always was, then others may not feel comfortable with the change. The bottom line is, sometimes change needs to happen to reduce stress and do what's best for our own family.
Perhaps, like us, you can find a solution that works for you. Here's some thoughts.
1. Set aside a specific time for that special time with extended family, but let them know that you're also making time to spend with just your kiddos. Everyone is on break, you and the kids need some time to build memories of your own.
2. If you're co-parenting, sit down now and make a plan. PLEASE be gracious with each other. I know many of you have custody agreements, but even then things can get "sticky."
Instead of making the holidays stressful, plan ahead. Be on time when you have to do the switch. Be kind to each other in front of the kids. Be respectful of traditions each of you have with your families. Be willing to do some give and take, it's the holidays after all.
3. Don't feel like you have to fill up every moment with big events. Quiet nights watching a family movie, or reading to your child an extra half hour are great ways to enjoy the time off from school and work schedules.
4. Make your own traditions. If you live away from family like we do, it's important to start figuring out how you, as a family, want to do things. If you are newly separated/divorced, then planning something that now defines the way you'll do the holiday with your kids will be a new adventure. It might be cookie baking, taking a trip, going to a holiday show...whatever. it's yours to develop and define.
Most importantly, give yourself permission to set boundaries around what you value most. It doesn't make you the bad guy, despite what others may say. Your priority is your kids, so making the holidays what you want is your choice. Saying no to parties that will be past your kids' bedtimes (and have them crabby and cranky) is okay. Letting others know that on certain days you're locking down with the kids for a family game day and won't be available is fine. IT'S YOUR DECISION.
One word of caution, as the kids get older, they may not want to hang around the house as much. They'll want time with their friends on their school vacation, and that's okay too. Have a family meeting and decide which things are a must (decorating the tree together) and which things you're willing to let go of so they can have their social time. Negotiate and work together on this.
Bottom line, do the holidays (and your family life) in a way that supports your family's vision, values and goals, because in the end you'll look back and see how today's new tradition is now being passed on to the next generation.
I'm thrilled to say, our family is growing by one next year with the arrival of our first grandbaby. Because of where our daughter and son-in-law live, we'll have to make some new holiday traditions, but we'll also be passing some of our favorites down to her.
Wishing you and your family a beautiful holiday season!
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