The excitement of the holidays is hard to contain! Your young children are anxiously waiting to leap out of their beds to open presents on Christmas morning. Your adult children may be traveling home from college or coming to visit from their homes. You may be looking forward to some days off work and time gathering with family. 

It can be a magical time of year, but it can also be one of the most stressful.

Parenting during the holidays is a unique scenario. You often have to deal with challenging behaviors, missed nap times, last-minute adjustments in routines, and shifting traditions as your family grows and changes. The key to approaching this season can be found in managing our expectations.

While there are many things about the holidays that are beyond our control, when we manage our expectations we can go through the holidays with more intentionality. This allows us to respond rather than react to challenging situations.

The reality is that we may love the holidays, but we don’t love them more than our families. We love traditions, but we don’t love them more than the people we share those traditions with.

As we approach this season, let’s look at some ways to manage your expectations well as you parent through the holidays:

Holiday Parenting for Younger Kids

Be ready for big emotions. Staying up late “waiting for Santa”, chowing down on sugar cookies and candy canes, and changes in your child’s routines can all lead to big mood swings and temper tantrums. This can be frustrating if we haven’t prepared ourselves for it! Consider that your children may need some extra time to get ready or a quiet place to calm their minds and bodies during the festivities.

Be ready to be asked for lots of sweets. The holidays are a time when treats abound! Pies, cookies, cakes, and more! If you are planning to set a limit for sweets, make sure that your kids understand those limits ahead of time as much as possible so they are less likely to be caught off guard in the moment. It’s also okay if you’re comfortable with allowing your kids to have “one more” treat and indulge a little as well. It’s helpful to think through your desires for this before you arrive at a holiday event.

Enjoy the little moments as much as possible! It’s a lot to get kids from place to place, manage everyone’s emotions, and make sure you’re participating in traditions. It’s not realistic to “enjoy every moment,” but it is realistic to look for and be present in those occasional little moments that bring extra joy to your heart as a parent.

Prepare extended family for expectations. It can be valuable to loop your extended family in on things like how long you’re planning to stay at an event, how your kids may or may not react to receiving gifts, and boundaries that would be valuable to communicate. By communicating these expectations in advance, you can help avoid unnecessary questions and disappointment from family members.

Holiday Parenting for Adult Kids

Focus on connection. The time to correct your adult children on the ways they are navigating their life is over. You are now officially a member of the “pray, don’t say” club. This isn’t the time to make our children feel judged or questioned about every aspect of their life. Instead, focus on enjoying this time with them! Encourage who they are and listen to what’s on their mind and heart.

Don’t assume involvement in traditions. It can be difficult to balance multiple family traditions, especially when they all happen on the same day! We’ve recently started to forgo the big Christmas Day dinner and instead we’ll gather everyone who can come together on a day that works best for all either before or after Christmas. At the very least, talk with your adult children about any traditions that they want to be involved in and any that they would rather skip. When we assume they’ll be present or engaged with every tradition they used to be involved in, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Be open-handed. Especially if our adult children are dating or married, they often have a lot of expectations placed upon them. They are still trying to figure out what traditions they want to hold dear while trying to make both sides of the family happy. Be open-handed with the time they give you and the time they need to commit elsewhere. Rather than getting defensive, we can choose not to take it personally and recognize that they are navigating many relationships as well. Here’s an example of what this has looked like for me lately.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to our adult children is to allow change to happen as the family dynamic shifts. Their sphere of relationships grows exponentially when they marry and start a new family. How much more loving and connecting it is to be able to respond with:

“We understand. It’s not the day that’s important. We’ll find another time that works better!”
“Your heart is most important to us. We don’t want to add any additional pressure by piling on expectations. If you can join us, we’ll be thrilled and if you can’t, we understand.”
“I love you. I love you the same no matter what decision you need to make for your sanity and what’s best for your family.”

When we take the time to manage our expectations for holiday parenting, we can help minimize disappointment and help our children have a Merry Christmas!

Today’s encouragement: Sit with this list and choose which phase currently represents your parenting season. Think through the scenarios listed so you can prepare your heart to enjoy this holiday season with the ones you love most!

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