Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Keeping the Season Bright
Tips to Help Avoid Holiday Burnout

by Sarah McCosham

December 01, 2012

It’s that time of year again - time for family, festivities and fun as we celebrate the holiday season. Unfortunately for many people, the holidays instead become defined by hectic shopping trips, stressful family events and to-do lists that never seem to end. Add kids into the mix, and things can become exponentially more stressful.

It’s easy to become burned out by the holidays. Read on for some simple tips on keeping the season merry and bright, staying a sane and happy parent and maintaining perspective on what the holidays are really about.

Managing Expectations

Once you get married and start your own family, former family traditions become tricky. For example, both you and your spouse used to spend Christmas morning at your respective households, but now you want to start your own traditions. Heather, mom to a 2 year-old toddler and 4 month-old fraternal twins, says that it hasn’t been easy transitioning from old traditions to new ones.

“I really wanted Christmas morning to be our own little family (meaning me, my husband and our kids) but we have immediate family that is used to seeing us every year on Christmas. Trying to do our own thing and not hurt anyone's feelings has been tough; however, it's really important to me that we establish our own traditions now that we have kids.”

In fact, managing family expectations is one of the most overwhelming holiday stressors, says Dr. Liz Boyd, Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The holidays increase the expectations or demand a person feels in the family role. Even if that person has negotiated a good balance for most of the year, that increased demand can throw things off and create a situation where there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.”

When dealing with family, it’s best to be clear about what your expectations are for the holidays. Pick a few family traditions you’d like to be part of, and be sure to let extended family know ahead of time what your plans are. By going into the holidays with just a few commitments and reasonable expectations, you’ll be able to really enjoy the time spent with your family.

Shopping…With Kids

Holiday shopping is stressful enough when it’s just you – add a carful of kids and shopping becomes next to impossible. According to Terri Potter, a toy seller at Kids Inc., parents should first take kids to a store for a “looking” day where they can observe what types of toys their kids enjoy. “Later on, parents can return (by themselves) and select those books, games and toys that they feel best fit the needs of their child,” she explains.

Depending on the age and disposition of your children, a “looking day” could easily turn into a series of tantrums, as they don’t understand why they can’t have everything they want now. In this case, the Toy Experts at Indianapolis’ Imagination Station suggest taking the kids along as you shop for others, which helps teach them about the joy of giving.

“Make sure to set expectations early on,” says Debi, one of Imagination Station’s Experts. She continues, “Teach them that the holiday isn't just about buying. Our family takes advantage of opportunities to give: we ‘adopt’ a child through Compassion International, we fill at least one shoebox for ‘Operation Christmas Child’ and we donate toys at local toy drives. Generosity and greed are both qualities learned very early in life.”

Setting budgets and guidelines for your own kids at an early age is also key. My husband and I have a long-standing tradition where we focus on the “four gift rule: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” By paring down lists to a manageable number, we can focus on buying more meaningful gifts for our family.

Finally, seek out gifts that will encourage imaginative play and cognitive development, such as books. Long after the excitement of Christmas morning has dissipated, these gifts stick around. “Several years ago I was at a birthday party where a six year-old boy got loads of plastic toys,” remembers Shirley Mullin of Kids Inc. “He exclaimed over each one, but when he unwrapped the dinosaur book I had taken, he tossed it aside. Later on, he couldn’t be found. He was eventually discovered in a quiet corner looking at the book.”

Remembering What’s Important

It’s easy to get swept up by the holiday season, but as a parent, it’s especially important to slow down and remember what’s really important. By coming up with a game plan ahead of time, the focus of the holidays can be on spending quality time with your family.

Advises Boyd, “Consider what is actually most important to you, and align your actions with those values. Don’t compare yourself to others, to memories of ‘perfect’ holidays in the past or even to media images of the ‘ideal’ holiday.”

Creating family memories is something Heather and her husband are actively trying to do with their three kids. For example, they’ve come up with traditions that don’t involve lots of preparation or money, such as “pajama night” where everyone dons a new pair of holiday pj’s and loads into the minivan to admire the holiday lights.

Above all, Heather says she wants to keep the holidays simple and family-oriented. “We want to focus more on being together rather than buying, buying, buying - we don't need presents galore under the tree - that's really not what Christmas is about.”