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  • Writer's pictureAnika

Surviving Christmas Stress with kids and relatives

Christmas can be a wonderful time, with lots of fantastic ways to make memories and spend time together with family and friends. It can also be a really stressful time – when all the tasks that you feel you need to do to get ready for Christmas have to be done ON TOP of the normal daily stuff:

You not only have to get the kids ready for school, cook dinner, prepare lunches, tidy and clean (as a family hopefully), parent and get the children involved, ferry them to and from various activities, attend additional Christmas activities, like school plays and school Christmas fairs (but also things like Ballet and Gymnastics shows, Swimming galas and Football matches), do your day job (don’t forget that one!)… and then there is all the Christmas stuff to do… you get the picture.

Very quickly you can feel overwhelmed and this idea of having a lovely relaxing pre-Christmas period seems like a distant memory.

So, what to do? Over the years I’ve been at varying degrees of overwhelm and each time, I’ve added something else that I’ve tried to get myself calm again.

Here are my top things that work best for me:

1) Get organized but if it doesn’t happen, let it go

I know Christmas is a busy time, so I do my best to be as organized as early as possible. As well as plan out what I want to do by when. So, as I mentioned in my previous blog – I tend to start writing the Christmas cards by 18th November each year and spread them out on various weekends so that I can enjoy the process rather than stress about it. I make a point of sitting down with a cup of tea or a nice drink, light the candles on our German Christmas wreath (Adventskranz) and just get started.

I will also make a list of who I absolutely want to send a card to and work down that list one by one, so I can see my progress and don’t accidentally forget anyone or send more than one card! This also helps when I get the children and my husband involved – we both work down the list and know where we are. In our school there is a tradition of writing Christmas cards to each of the children in the class (that’s 100 cards right there with 3 children) – so I will invite the children to do the same – make a list of all classmates (or get one from school), and then they will write their cards while I write mine.

When it comes to other Christmas activities, I will often sit down with a calendar about 6 weeks before Christmas and ‘book in’ what needs to be done my when – and then, if it doesn’t happen by that date, I do my best to let it go and move on (this doesn’t always happen and can still get myself in a pickle by wanting to rearrange things). When I do let things go and get over the initial guilt, it is really liberating! It allows me to slow down and actually enjoy the Christmas period and have some fun with the kids rather than being stressed all the time. Delegating and sharing jobs also really helps with this – so things like organizing the tree and the wreath is sometimes a job that my husband does with the kids rather than all of us together.

2) Good is good enough

I am a firm believer of this one. Doing something – even if it is not 100% perfect – is normally absolutely fine. The tree does not have to be decorated ‘perfectly’ – the kids can do this and have some fun and even though it won’t look as ‘even’ as if my husband or I did it, it will still look absolutely fine!

Equally, if I only have the energy to bake 2 types of biscuits rather than the full set that I thought I’d be able to bake, then that is fine (or if I don’t manage to do any that is ok too)! If the cards are less detailed than I’d like them to be, that’s ok. If the Goose is a bit wonky, or we have roast potatoes rather than German dumplings, then that is ok… Be kind to yourself. Pick the one or two things that are really important to you to get done ‘properly’, then focus on just those and be less strict with all the rest.

3) Set boundaries

I think this is an important one, especially if you are having relatives visiting for the Christmas period. A few years ago we were spending Christmas with both sides of the family and we agreed up front that each little family was able to do something on their own, if they wanted to. This way, we ‘officially’ got rid of the pressure to feel like we had to do everything together and that really helped. We also decided up front on some of the things that were really important to do (or not to do) for each family and planned these in. And finally, everyone made a point of just having some fun – being open and tolerant and flexible as much as possible.

I hear from some families that often parenting styles can be an issue – especially if these are different from your own. When this happens in our gatherings, I have learnt over time how much it helps me to try and stay in ‘my good place’. I try and see how the behaviours of my children might be triggering for others, and will do my best to step in before the relatives can. I will speak to my children and verbalise what is really going on for both sides (e.g. 'R, you need to sit down at the table now. We all want to eat together and if you run around, it is making the adults really frustrated. I know you just want to play with your new toys, but let's put them in a safe place, have some food together and then come back to play.')

I hope that this helps the relatives to soften their stance, but if it doesn’t, then at least I know that I have continued to parent in the way I believe is right – whether we have guests or not. Another example might be if the children are whining and wanting something NOW and I can see the relative getting frustrated and wanting to explode. I will talk to my child and say something like: I can see you are really frustrated. You really wanted to eat your pudding before the main meal. It does look tasty, doesn’t it? We can’t do that, though. We need to eat the main meal first. How about we serve you a bowl of pudding and put it in a special place so you know that you have the portion you want when you’ve finished your main meal.’

And if a relative actually openly disagrees with me, I might just say something like, ‘Yes, we all parent differently. This is the way that I do it.’ And just leave it at that. It is a problem they have, not you. They might be used to doing things differently, but these are your children and you and your partner get to parent them the way you both think is best. So, it is really up to you whether you let their comment spoil the rest of your holiday with them or to move on and focus on what really matters to you.

4) Plan in some ‘me’ time

This is one that reminds me of all those years ago when my husband and I were getting married and we were getting overwhelmed with all the planning. Two of our very good friends whisked us off for a day at the spa. At first I felt like I couldn’t possibly afford to do that – I just saw this endless list of things I needed to get done before the big day and I didn’t feel like I could possibly take a day out for some fun!! But actually, it did me the world of good.

Not only, is it a memory that I hold dear to this day, at the time, it also helped me calm right down, focus on something totally different, enjoy the present moment and enjoy myself: something I hadn’t done in weeks! So, now, in the run up to Christmas I try and book in some me time to do the same. To help me calm down, see the bigger picture and do something nice just for me. Sometimes it can be a massage or a spa trip, but often it might be just a nice relaxing bath when the kids are all in bed, or a trip to my local coffee shop with my favourite book, or to meet a friend, or even just a walk or a swim.

The point is, especially when I’m stressed and I’m tempted to just ‘power through’, I have learnt that putting in some me time is really important. It helps me re-charge my batteries, slow down and focus on what really matters. And that, in turn, actually helps me get more things done again, not less.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but it can also be a time when emotions run high and everyone wants to make ‘perfect’ memories with each other. That is a lot of pressure to live up to! And when I find myself getting sucked into that, I look at the small things that are going well, reduce my to do list and try to pull myself back into the ‘Now’ to notice the cold air, my children giggling, the sparkly lights or the fire roaring in the hearth.

Whatever you get up to, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

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