The theme for Harmony’s ASAP November support group meetings has been reducing holiday stress. Parents who attended have noted that they do feel the stress associated with this time of year. The holidays are stressful enough already for most families. Expectations for a “perfect” holiday season are high, budgets might be tight, there may be conflict within families, and we all have the ideal Hallmark holiday vision in our minds. When you add into this mix the fact of being a foster or adoptive family, the holidays can be overwhelming for both adults and children. Here are some tips for making the holidays less stressful for your family.
1. Lower your expectations that you can create or will have “the perfect holiday.” Make your family time about being together, and plan low-cost family activities. Let the kids help you prepare the holiday meal, and do as much of it ahead of time as possible. Take a walk together after the meal to work off some of those calories and increase endorphins, which will improve mood. Participate in a volunteer activity as a family. Let your children choose a name off the Angel Tree to purchase gifts for a child who otherwise might not have a gift at Christmas.
2. Talk about feelings at the holidays. If you have foster or adoptive children in your home, they may be having very mixed feelings about the holidays. Oftentimes, children and teens idealize their birth family and minimize the negative experiences they may have had with them, especially around the holidays. These children often act out behaviorally during this time, creating additional stress for their foster or adoptive parents. Help your child or children express their feelings verbally by opening the discussion, giving them a safe place to talk about their feelings, and listening without judgment.
3. If the holidays are “always” too stressful for your family, give yourself the gift of celebrating family at a less busy time of year. Families often feel pulled in different directions if they have two, or three, or four sets of grandparents/in-laws to visit. Schedule family visits throughout the year when you can enjoy the experience and your children can have a more meaningful experience in a less rushed, crowded, or tense atmosphere.
4. Be kind to yourself so that you can build up your emotional reserves. Build in time in your schedule for the things that make you feel good, whether that is exercise, yoga, meditation, worshiping, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, having some alone time with your spouse or partner – you get the point. People often give and give until they have nothing else to give. Then they feel guilty because they have to withdraw from their children or spouse or other family and take some time to refill their emotional bucket. Keep your bucket filled all year long by taking care of yourself first and you can skip the empty feelings and the guilt!
Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.