With November here, can December be far behind? If you face this time of year with a mix of delight and dread, you are one of millions of parents who wish there were some way to hold on to the holiday spirit but eliminate the pressures of this season. Here are some suggestions for surviving to January:
Reconsider Your ExpectationsWhat makes this season daunting for so many of us? Experts say the stress comes from the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves and our families. Those Norman Rockwell paintings and holiday TV specials have imprinted images of what's "supposed to be." Expectations have their place, and there's nothing wrong with striving for family togetherness or wanting to create joy-filled memories; but let's not forget that images of perfect holiday happiness are often fantasies. Those picture-book scenes may well have been created by people working late at night and far from home, longing for the ideal family that only existed in their imaginations.
Remember That Every Family Is DifferentYou may wish your family was a "complete deck," but most aren't. The holidays often bring up a lot of emotion about who's missing -- and, let's face it, sometimes about who's present! Instead of comparing your family to other families, find ways to appreciate the uniqueness of the family and friends who are part of your life.
Celebrate in Your Own WayWhen it comes to the holidays, one size doesn't fit all. While traditions can be wonderful, and children enjoy the anticipation of the familiar, it can become destructive to get so hung up on maintaining family rituals that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Just because your parents celebrated a certain way or you did something last year doesn't mean that you need to maintain the same routines forever. Flexibility and spontaneity bring their own rewards.
Remember What Really CountsIf we end up so frazzled, irritable, and exhausted during the holidays that we hardly enjoy them, what message are we sending to our kids? We owe it to ourselves to take a good look at the activities that contribute to our stress. Can we buy cookies from the store rather than bake them ourselves? Do we absolutely have to send out holiday cards during the most demanding time of year? If you're too busy to send holiday greetings, wait until after the holidays to get in touch. Postpone whatever isn't essential, keep your sense of humor, and find your own way to enjoy the season...one day at a time.
Istar Schwager, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist, mom, and founder of Creative Parents, Inc., with the website creativeparents.com. She believes that as parents we need all the support we can get.