Avoiding Stress at the Holidays

Avoiding Stress at the Holidays 
by WSP Team Lead, Shereen Vinke

The winter holidays–really, all holidays–can be immensely stressful, but having kids makes them even more anxiety-inducing.  We want you to have the best possible holiday experience for your first year back with your kids so you can build your bank of happy memories.  We hope you’ll find some of this advice helpful.

  • Set a budget–and stick to it.  The holiday season usually brings parties galore, and parties can be expensive, whether you’re hosting or simply bringing side dishes.  Make sure you know what you can afford to spend on holiday extras and consider what extra expenses you might have. Don’t forget about those little things that add up, like a grab bag gift for your kids’ classroom party, a side dish for each of the family/friend activities you’ve agreed to attend, or the $10 you’re asked to chip in for a gift for the boss!  Say no to anything you can’t afford.  You want to have money for the necessities like food, rent, and utilities.  Remember, if you put things on your credit card, you’re going to be paying them off–with lots of interest–for months to come.
  • Set healthy boundaries.  Yes, you want to make your family and friends happy during the holidays, but not at the expense of your well-being.  It’s okay to say, “I’d really love to do that, but it’s just not going to work for me right now.”  You are welcome to explain if you are too busy, if your budget is too tight, or if you are too overwhelmed–but you do not have to offer an explanation.  One of your most important tasks, both as a parent and as a human being, is to take care of yourself so you can lead a healthy and happy life.
  • Clarify expectations to avoid disappointment.  This applies to both adults–including you!–and kids.
      • Are there things that YOU hope for this holiday season?  Make sure you express your desires so that others can let you know if they’ll be able to meet those expectations.  It’s better to know in advance if something you hope for isn’t going to happen.
      • State your plans and clarify expectations with the other adults in your life.  Do they expect gifts?  Is the amount they hope you’ll spend realistic?  What activities do they expect you to participate in?  Make sure you clarify what you’ll do in advance to avoid last-minute blow-ups.
      • Make sure you know what your children hope for and they know what your family plans are.  Help your children’s expectations match reality so that they aren’t disappointed.  You can be as specific as you think is helpful, even saying, “__ is not a gift you will be getting this year,” or “This year you will get one useful gift, one gift you can wear, and one toy.”
  • Don’t forget that a change in routine–even if it’s a fun and exciting change–can cause stress.  Prepare both yourself and your children by talking about those changes in schedule before they happen.  Going over plans for the next day at dinner or bedtime can give everyone the comfort of knowing what’s coming next.  For major changes, like travel plans or a completely different schedule for your day, it might be helpful to mention for several days leading up to the event.  Even so, keep in mind that everyone might be more grumpy than usual when their routine is not normal.  Be patient with yourself and your kids!
  • Start a new tradition or continue an old one that brings you joy.  Some of the most treasured family memories that people have are of time spent together.
  • Many communities have free events during the holiday season: check your local community calendar or search Facebook for events being held near you.  
  • Pack the kids into the car and play Christmas music while driving around to look at neighborhood light displays.
    • Check out a favorite Christmas movie from the library or use your streaming service to have a cozy family movie night.
    • Get your kids involved in baking a favorite meal or treat.

We at Women’s Storybook Project hope that you make many wonderful memories with your children during this first year that you are back together!