Self-Care for Parents During the Holidays
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Copyright © 2015 Center for the Challenging Child
Who takes care of you during the holidays? Maybe you have a supportive spouse who shares parenting duties equally with you, as time allows. Or maybe you have your parents, friends or neighbors who are there for you when things get intense. Or you could be feeling on your own this holiday season, whether as a matter of course, or a recent life change.
Whatever your situation, the gift of self-care is vital for making it through the holidays with some sense of sanity. It’s all too easy to think that parents are the giving machines when it comes to creating good times for their families. Noble as that thought may be, it’s not adequate, and it could be harmful, as stress will take its toll on you if you don’t care for you.
I’ve recently worked with two parents who are going through tough break-ups, and I emphasized that they need to “put the mask over their own nose and mouth before assisting others.” They both cried when I said that, so I know I hit a tender spot. The parents expressed that they were just hanging on from moment to moment, trying to hold life together for their kids, and not thinking about their own needs. As much as I am loathe to add another task to their to-do list, I have to. As their parent coach, my job is to offer support and direction to parents whose lives are feeling out of control. Self-care is paramount if child behavior and parent-child relationships are to improve. There’s no short-cut.
Whether you are in a life transition now or not, self-care needs to be on your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa list. You likely have a job, kids, holidays, relatives, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, mailing, concerts, plays, travel, and oh yeah, laundry, on your plate. Now is not the time to imagine yourself as Superhuman. The stress associated with doing so can actually ruin the very holiday spirit you are trying to create. Let your children see you put yourself on the caring list. It’s great role modeling.
I remember looking at photos of myself at Christmas when my children were young. I looked exhausted, and was unable to enjoy their joy. The image of those photos is burned on my memory and it’s what I want to help you avoid.
So say “no” to 40% of the things that offer themselves as holiday opportunities. Make it 50% if you have a large family or friend circle. Each “no” equals an assurance of your peaceful mental state, and should be regarded as gold. You do not want to give your children the memory of a totally stressed parent for the holidays. Sometimes you’ll be saying “no” to yourself. Be a good steward of your mental state, and promise not to overload yourself. There’s no competition for “best mom” or “best dad” at holiday time. What kids really need is your emotional presence.
Sit with your children and read a good holiday story. Buy egg nog and cookies and indulge with them. Play a friendly board or card game. Put on music that brings the season to mind. None of this costs much, but it all serves to preserve the spirit of the season. If you have a major event such as a play or holiday concert, take other things off your plate. Wrap presents simply or not at all (better for the environment, too), give only one gift to each person, engage the kids in helping with the meal or cookie prep, let the house be a little messier, keep the gatherings to a few hours when you can, and don’t try to please everyone. You can’t possibly succeed, and it just exhausts you. Relatives who put their desires in front of your self-preservation are just misguided about the meaning of the season. Let it go, and do what’s good for you and your family.
With that, I wish you peace in your heart this holiday season.
Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Supporter