When under stress (or when a bit too ‘jolly’ from the mulled wine) we tend to revert back to old habits. This can mean the usual agreements made over giving kids money, letting them stay up late, etc., can all start to falter.
How to avoid one partner being made into the ‘grinch’ and the other a jolly Santa?
1. It’s extremely important tohave a proper parenting discussion in advance.Decide what flexibility to normal rules you will allow over the holidays and commit to sticking to your agreements.
2. Come up with an agreed ‘stop word’ to be used if you are close to arguing about parenting in front of the kids. Take a time out in another room and let the kids wait for your joint decision.
3. Set the family Christmas budget in stone. Put it down in writing. Money is one of the main causes of disagreement between parents this time of year, so handle it now. Leave a slight contingency for forgotten items and emergencies so it’s realistic.
4. Be a team during family events. Christmas get-togethers can often see one partner having their parenting style criticised by a nosy sister or bossy mother. Even if a part of you might agree with the feedback, it’s not the time to say so. Support your spouse and save any constructive criticism for a conversation in the new year.
The holidays are a unique combination of high stress levels and the kids around non stop. This means perhaps you need to worry less about your kids’ behaviours, and more about your own. Your kids will take their own stress levels from yours, and will also respond to conflict in ways they see you doing so.
How can you set a reasonably good example?
1. There’s festive, then there is festive.A glass or two of grandma’s vodka punch can seem like just ‘getting into the spirit’. But for a child, both parents becoming incoherent can cause a feeling the world is not safe. Agree in advance to drinking limits you’ll stick to at family affairs, or schedule turns being the sober one.
2. Catch your complaining. It’s the time of year you might want to complain about your partner’s timekeeping, their lack of organisation, their family you can’t stand… But listening to such endless digs can be toxic for a sensitive child who takes all things personally.
3. Brush up on good communication.If ever there was a good time to brush up on communicating skills it’s now (our piece on communicating under stress can be a good start). Your kids will mimic your communication style with siblings. Try to avoid ‘blame’ statements that begin with ‘you did/said’ when talking to your children or spouse. And ask good questions instead of making assumptions.
4. Keep what routine you can.Consistency is important with parenting, and actually leads to the kids feeling less anxious. So even though it is the holidays, things like a regular bedtime and mealtimes can mean everyone is more levelheaded.
5. Less greed, more giving. If your kids are over focussed on presents, what can you do to set a better example? Can each family member choose a personal item to give to a less fortunate family? Or consider volunteering together. As an added bonus volunteering is proven to improve moods.
Stress Less, Parent Better
If there is anything that throws off parenting skills it’s stress. We are all guilty of taking out a bad mood on a child or losing our patience.
It might seem the one time of year there really isn’t any time to take for yourself but this is exactly why you should. From a quick exercise class to a beer at the pub, take turns giving each other a break. You’ll be better parents for it.
Feeling you have to take care of everything yourself as ‘nobody else gets it right’ is actually a power move connected to a victim mentality. Let others have a go this year. And allowing your kids do things like decorating the cookies and writing the cards can mean they feel more a part of things.
3. Stop comparing.
It doesn’t matter what the perfect holiday season is supposed to look like, how your neighbours or sister-in-law are doing things, or what Christmas was like when you were a child.
Each time you hear yourself make a comparison, see it as an opportunity to stop and be mindful. What is going right right now? What do you have to be grateful for in this moment?
Expecting too much of your holiday, or of your children and their behaviour, can lead to conflict. Try to just enjoy things as they are and accept that your children, and you yourself, won’t be perfect.
If all else fails…
Parenting crisis? Just feel you can’t take it anymore? Don’t feel you have to go it alone.