Written By Tina Szymczak
I am not going to mince words with you. The Christmas holidays when our oldest son was little were HARD. He struggled with noise and large gatherings. He lashed out at his cousins and friends. He moved constantly, never stopping even to play for a few moments. He was always getting into things and needed constant supervision. We realized early on that large family gatherings, with all the noise and commotion, were not conducive to making memorable, joyful moments. Therefore, we decided that we would not travel right at Christmas and instead stay home and focus on our family of four. For a child that had difficulty with socializing and controlling his emotions, this cut down on the lashing out in anger and acts of aggression.
Instead, we would stay home and focus on our family. We would bake cookies (well I baked cookies and they ate them) and listen to quiet Christmas music. We would put up the tree and let the kids go to town on decorating it (though my husband would quietly move things around after they went to bed). I would make sure to send our Christmas cards with a newsletter updating all those people who had not seen us in a while as to what had been going on in our family. Those were the things that were important to us. You have to decide for your family what is important for you.
The years our son was in a mental health crisis were very hard. I do not remember much detail about the holidays those years. However, I can tell you that no cookies were baked and no cards were sent. We did the bare necessity, such as buying presents for the kids, and the rest just fell by the wayside. You know what? That was fine. No one stopped being my friend because I did not send a Christmas card and my kids do not remember that there was no gingerbread house that year. What they would have remembered was a frazzled miserable mom who spent too much time trying to live up to others expectations. Sometimes we are the casualty of our own high expectations.
I do not like to give advice to others, but if I was going to share some lessons I have learned along the way they would be:
- Give up perfection. There is no such thing. Good enough is good enough.
- Do not give in to other people’s plans and expectations. Do what is right for YOUR family.
- If something is important to you but does not work well with your child, be creative about how to approach it. Can you take someone with you to that holiday gathering to “hang out” with your child while you try to enjoy yourself? Does your child even need to go to the event or would they be just as happy to stay home with a friend or relative?
- Keep a “busy bag” full of toys and activities that your child does not normally get to play with. Alternatively, download some new apps and give them your phone or tablet to play on if they need it.
- Find your child a quiet place they can go to at gatherings. If people come to your home, allow your child to seek refuge in their own room if that is what they need. Forcing them to be social under those circumstances is bound to have disastrous consequences.
- Let other people help you. If someone offers to cook the holiday meal – let them.
- Do not let other people’s judgements (or your assumption that they are judging you) guide your decisions. Instead, know what is important and necessary for your family and go with that.
You can hear more Tina on her website at http://www.spiritedblessings.com/