Ahhhh…holidays. A chance to hang about, enjoy the company of family and friends, relax and smell the roses. If only!
Holidays are supposed to be a time of fun; yet for many families they turn out to be stressful, difficult periods that often leave mum and dad looking forward to getting back to work for a rest – and the kids glad to have ’em gone! Back in the early 80s, Psychologist Thomas Holmes identified going on a vacation as being among the top 50 most stressful life events. Also on the list were things like major changes in the number of family get-togethers (a lot more or less than usual), changes in the usual amount or type of recreation, changes in the nature and type of social activities, including increased attendance at religious gatherings. In short, this time of the year is really anything but a relaxing distraction from the normal pressures of day-to-day life. Here are some ideas to help you survive the holiday season without sending your stress-o-meter through the roof!
Prepare for the worst while hoping for better, or simply lower your expectations. Be realistic about your family – both immediate and extended. Is there a history of conflict or difficulties at this time of the year? If there is, why should this year be any different? Sometimes by lowering our expectations of others we can actually begin to feel more positive about our interactions with them. Remember, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, so learn how to say ‘No’ to extended family demands and pressures. Traditions are made to be broken, so try not to find yourself involved in activities or get-togethers because that’s what you always do this time of year, or because you think you ‘should’. Or, if you must attend, give yourself an ‘out’ clause, a way to escape those times which inevitably revert to old destructive ways, and take the option of leaving for a bit if things get too hard to handle.
Enjoy the moment. Holidays are times to be savoured. Think of them as a great meal at a fabulous restaurant. You can eat as many dishes as you can and try lots of the delicious things on the menu, but chances are you’ll end up with indigestion. Why not try for one or two activities each day, with lots of R&R time in between, rather than pack the days with activity after activity? And don’t be afraid to break your regular routine. Does it really matter if dinner is late? Why not stay a bit longer at the beach instead of rushing back to do those chores? Savour it, and the memory will be that much sweeter.
Close proximity for lengthy periods
The holiday season sometimes brings families into much closer proximity than usual and for longer periods than they are used to. Mum, dad or carers are off from work, the kids are home from school all day, every day. This sudden intensity of contact can lead to frustration and strain. This in turn leads to competing needs about who gets to do what, when, and with who, etc. Time apart can be as important to a family’s survival as time together. Take some time-out if your feel particularly overwhelmed. Otherwise, create opportunities for balance – time together, time apart, time one-on-one with each other. This is particularly true for non-custodial parents and families who may be used to having contact with their kids for much shorter spells than those that occur during the holiday period. While many parents will be looking forward to this extended time with the kid/s, it can also lead to disappointment when tempers become frayed and the continuous contact becomes more than what everyone can easily bear. Again, think about how you might be able to spend the time in less intense ways. A sleepover with the grandparents or a BBQ among friends with kids the same age can provide some respite for stressed parents and kids. Being in the company of others is a particularly useful way to water down the intensity of contact with family members.
Planning a vacation
If you are planning a vacation, remember that this can bring you into even more intense contact than when you’re at home. Plan ahead for the trip – make sure there are plenty of activities available in the car for the kids if driving for long periods. There are some great ‘car games’ available on the Internet. Let your kids help decide which they’d like to try. Take plenty of breaks along the way – getting to your destination is as much a part of the adventure as choosing what to do once you’ve arrived. Think about what your children will need. Is it fair to assume they can spend long periods driving in the car? Do you need to consider an overnight stop along the way? Are there good activities to do on the route you’re taking, or is it worth looking at an alternative route to help reduce everyone’s boredom? Vacations are another great time to think about balancing your time with family – as mentioned above, ‘time together, time one-on-one, time alone’ will help break down the intensity for everyone.
Time apart from loved ones
The flip side of the holiday season coin can be the experience of being apart from loved ones at this time of year. While all around are reminders that this is a time for contact with family, many feel isolated and apart from the celebrations because of their circumstances. If this is you, this is the time to be with friends – take up any offers that come along for social contact. Talk to others about how you’re feeling. Engage in activities that will create opportunities for contact with others. For instance, a trip to a local cricket match is more likely to bring you in the vicinity of others than a bush walk in a remote location. This kind of incidental contact can give the chance for being part of activities without having to risk getting into deep conversations about your particular situation – unless you choose to.
With a little planning and preparation, and the acceptance of the reality that this time of the year can be challenging for everyone, it is possible for everyone to enjoy this time and the celebration it brings. I hope you find these ideas helpful. Whichever paths the weeks ahead lead you, I wish all the Kidslife members a safe and happy holiday. Look forward to catching up again in the New Year.