by Jan Levinson Gilman, Ph.D.
If you are a parent of young children, you probably share an almost universal desire to make holidays special for your children. You also may have to overcome certain obstacles in creating your own special experiences with your children such as finances, distance from family members, and the special circumstances created by divorce, step-parenting, and blended families. Many parents work overtime during the holidays only to find themselves frustrated by the experience and doubtful that the end “result” was particularly meaningful to their children. While it’s difficult to determine exactly what special means to any one child, here are some guide lines which are most likely applicable to your family.
1. Develop traditions.
Create activities which are special to your family. They need not be elaborate or costly, but they need to be enjoyable and reflective of your family. Traditions can be as simple as a special recipe that everyone associates with the family holiday to an elaborate vacation or special event in which everybody participates. Some family holiday meals consist of recipes that the parents enjoyed when they were children or foods that are reflective of their culture. The opportunity for everyone to participate in the preparation of the meal may become part of a tradition. Traditions may naturally develop around certain activities such as finding a Christmas tree or they may be deliberately planned in order to make the holiday special. Once formed, these traditional activities contribute to a sense of identity and uniqueness for your children about their family holiday.
2. Keep your plans within your resources.
Holidays are double duty for most parents. What parent hasn’t wondered where the extra time will come from to shop, wrap presents, cook, and plan and attend special events? What parent hasn’t wished for that mythical homemaker of the 1950 sitcoms to be dropped on their doorstep to complete all the family’s holiday preparation in a timely manner? Short of granting that wish, be realistic about the scope of your plans. If you are hurried and stressed your personal contribution to your children’s holiday may be your short temper and irritability rather than your patience and enthusiasm.
3. Be sensitive to your children’s wishes.
This is the time of year when it’s difficult to avoid the many conflicting issues between parents and children. This is often true when children become teen-agers and the value of family time changes. Blended and divorced families pose special challenges for the holidays. Children often lose the delight and excitement of the holidays and instead feel the demands of making all their parents happy. If you anticipate any of these circumstances, plan ahead. Discuss with your teen-agers how they and you will spend their time. Communicate with your child’s other parent to determine how your child’s time will be spent. For example, two Christmas celebrations might be fine, but most children will resist two Thanksgiving dinners. Changing homes late at night on Christmas eve may be confusing and stressful to young children.
4. Help children understand the value and meaning of holidays.
Don’t rely upon others to convey the meaning to your children; do it yourself. Talking about your own personal meaning is important. If the holidays are a religious experience for you, impart that by your religious practice; if it’s a sharing experience, provide your child an opportunity to share; if it’s a predominant family reunion experience, provide a reunion of family for your child.
5. Finally, have fun yourself.
Don’t expect perfection. Remember just as your child doesn’t need or want a perfect parent, neither do they need a perfect holiday… just a good enough day will do.