By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director
If you are parenting children, you know that the holidays tend to be one of the most amazing times of the year, and one of the most difficult times of the year, all at once: the sugar, the cold, the lack of normalcy, the relatives, the travel. It’s all wonderful and terrible, sometimes in the same breath. Here are some great survival tips to make it through the holidays with both caregivers and children feeling celebrated and cherished.
Remember that what fires together wires together. Often when working with parents who are parenting kids from trauma, they explain what they think they alone have experienced – the phenomenon that their child creates, the child that “sabotages” the good days. Have you gone through this? Your child has been so excited about their birthday, or another special day, only to completely “ruin” the day with non-stop temper tantrums and meltdowns?
Remember that stress hormones are the same; whether it is “good” stress or “bad” stress, the body releases the same hormones. As a result, the brain does what it normally does when those are released (picture child in a puddle in the middle of all their presents, spent with excitatory neurotransmitters and the bliss of it all- but it looks like disrespect and manipulation). So if your child is acting more like the day they got in trouble at school, and it’s Christmas morning, remember that most often, they are not trying to sabotage the day, but that they just don’t know what else to do with their brains and bodies.
Embrace family of origin traditions. Ask the children in your care what traditions or food they need to have included to make it feel like the holidays. If you have contact with biological family, ask them what traditions they’d like to have you carry on; it may be a recipe for grandma’s mac and cheese, a particular song they sing, etc. When our son moved in with us, we quickly realized he had always seen Santa Claus expressed as a black man. So we caught on, and we now have many black Santas and travel to a certain mall in our state that always has a black Santa Claus come.
Create new traditions together. The first holiday we spent with our teenagers we decided we needed new traditions as a new family! So, we created a few new traditions together. We picked out the breakfast menu together, and they stayed up late and helped us “Claus.” We also each wrote a tradition down that we’d like to start, and then picked two out of a hat. We had a blast bonding over these new ideas and thinking outside of the box!
Communicate expectations. You might not realize how many expectations everyone involved in celebrating holidays might hold. If your kids are three or older, have a conversation about how they imagine each holiday will look. The first Christmas we had as foster parents I didn’t realize how many expectations I had about how Christmas morning should look, until it was too late. Christmas morning had always looked the same in my house growing up, and therefore, in the family my husband and I had created. The kids were allowed to open stockings early, and then wait until after breakfast with the entire family, when the grandparents show up, before they opened any presents under the tree. At this time, one individual would open up a gift, thank the giver, and then pick out a present for the next person to open. We never had many presents, so we extended this gift opening for as long as possible.
I remember waking up that first Christmas morning, to the giggles and sounds of kids playing out in the living room, as I groggily walked into the room, I looked around shocked. I must have gasped, and my husband quickly appeared. He gently just walked me back to bed. As I had walked into the living room, I had discovered that our five-year-old foster son had woken up and proceeded to open ALL of the presents under the tree, before any of us had even made our way out to the living room. I was devastated, and my reaction could have devastated him. My husband quickly mediated the situation, by re-wrapping things that weren’t the child’s presents, and having me go shower to give me some time to gather myself! So make sure you all communicate what you expect the day to look like!
Drink lots of water. Okay, this one is sort of a joke, as it is my catch all for everything at my house, but it is also totally serious! There is so much sugar around during the holidays. And stress. And germs! The more water we ALL drink, the better our bodies can do at detoxifying out the bad stuff. So whether it’s that lovely gentleman sitting across the aisle from you on the flight to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving who keeps coughing on you, or that extra fudge sitting on the receptionist’s desk at work, everyone’s systems are overloaded this time of year. Give yours a chance. Give your kids a chance, and drink lots of water! Water is known to detoxify and help keep neurotransmitter levels balanced, which is imperative for good behavior!
Just remember that this time of year is a time when we celebrate our families. Enjoy quality time with our friends and children, and soak up what it means to be present over perfect.