Parenting Stress at the Holidays

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

The holidays fast approaching, and if we have kids, we might find that amongst the Christmas jingles parenting stress is slowly creeping into our lives.

There can certainly feel a lot to worry about. From organising get togethers and the perfect Christmas dinner, to dealing with shared parenting and blended families, it can be hard to keep everyone happy.

Navigating parental stress at Christmas

How can we best deal with parental stress at the holidays?

1. Give the gift of quality time.

Your kids want to remember a happy parent. Not an overstressed person who snaps at them. Or has no time for them because they are so busy finding the prefect presents.

Think of it as ‘presence over presents’, and make the school holidays an opportunity for quality time. This doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be a walk in their favourite park, a hot drink together, or cuddles in front of their favourite Christmas special.

2. Lower expectations.

Sit down and write out your expectations. Be honest. The ask yourself, how far could you lower these high hopes?

Compromise is the fastest way to lower stress. As is delegating, which can happen more easily when we aren’t feeling that for everything to be perfect we have to do it all ourselves.

Do your famous baked goods need to be so perfect this year, or could you bake with the kids and let things be a little bit messier?

3. Don’t overlook the power of family rituals.

From decorating the tree together, to going to see the local Christmas lights display, family rituals and traditions not only count, they might lower stress.

And this might be particularly true this year, when we are still dealing with the shadow of the pandemic.

A review of 50 years of research around family rituals, published by the American Psychological Society (APA), concluded that--

“Family routines and rituals are powerful organisers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.”

4. Set achievable goals.

Guilty of always trying to do too much, then being so stressed that you don’t even appreciate any of it?

It can help to look at whether the goals you are setting are honestly achievable. Is cooking everything by yourself and from scratch for 20 family guests reasonable? Or do you need to again remember to delegate? Or accept that some things can be ordered from the local deli?

5. Learn to say no and set boundaries

Expectations from our partners, wider family, and even friends can put extra pressure on us during this time. Where possible, talk things through in advance so you can make your boundaries clear. For example, discuss with your partner how you’ll receive guests, or how long you’ll visit relatives for.

And if you are separated or divorced from your partner, a clean agreement in advance is the key for a harmonious holiday. And instead of doing this verbally, get it via emails or letters so there is no disputing it later.

Also, do not forget, it is perfectly okay to give things a pass. You don’t have to attend every event for children and families that is offered.

6. Consider volunteering as a family.

The holiday season is a great opportunity to teach kindness and responsibility for others. From a young age your kids can be involved in charitable acts, from collecting toys and clothes, to actual volunteer work if they old enough.

Does it lower stress for adults? A study carried out at Carnegie Mellon University seems to think so. It connected volunteering to lower blood pressure.

7. Priortise positive role modelling.

Can’t seem to let go of your need to appear like the perfect Instagram family? No matter how much stress it’s causing you?

Then keep in mind that as parents, you are the primary role models for your children. According to the American Psychological Association:

“Children notice every little thing. They watch their parents constantly. They learn good and bad behaviours by watching and listening and imitating”.

Yet another reason for you to take some pressure off. Forget the cleaning and get out with the kids to the park, or order that pizza instead of cooking. Lower your aesthetic standards about the perfect Christmas tree and dive in to the family fun.

Feel like parenting stress is a problem not just at Christmas, but all the time? Did you know counselling is a great way to troubleshoot raising your kids? Use our easy booking tool now to find a therapist who helps with family issues.

Liz Szalai is a freelance writer and parent with a master’s degree in psychology. She worked with children and young people for more than 15 years, including teaching students with learning difficulties. Find her at @lizszalaiwriter.

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