Holidays always seem to conjure up the image of the perfect family, and yet most of us are not perfect. And life's stressors--divorce, illness, financial stress, and military deployments, to name a few--don’t go away or get better automatically just because it’s the holiday season. Such harsh realities can be particularly difficult for children this time of year.
Here are a few things you can do to make the holidays go more smoothly.
Discuss your schedules ahead of time. If you have recently separated from your spouse, then your child is probably worrying about how the holiday is going to play out. Parents should plan the schedule together and share it with the children, and then stick to it. Don’t make unnecessary last-minute changes to plans; that’s really hard on a child.
If separated or divorced, set realistic expectations. Over the holidays, some children might start to fantasize that their parents will get back together, or that their absent parent will magically appear. Talk about these things openly and honestly. “Mommy and Daddy love you very much but will not live together as a family again.”
Military deployment: set realistic expectations. If you know that a deployed parent will not be home for the holidays, let the children know. Focus on things they can do for the deployed parent and talk about the celebration you will all have when he or she eventually does come home. Maybe even let them wrap some presents to save for the homecoming.
If finances are tough, share with your child that Santa will probably not bring everything on the child’s list. Don’t stress the child with details about your finances, but help them be prepared.
Focus on someone else. Bring food to your local food shelter, collect toys for a charity, gather items for a Ronald McDonald House, or send letters and pictures to deployed soldiers. Helping your child to think and care about others during the holiday season is good for them, and such activities can serve as a distraction from stresses at home as well.
Take care of yourself. I've said this in an earlier blog, but it's worth repeating. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, try to keep to your exercise schedule, and read a good book (even if it’s just in 10-minute snatches!). Don’t feel guilty about your mental health break--your children will also benefit.