Trees and lights. Snow and sledding. Family and holidays. For many of us, these are naturally joyful pairs. (Trees and lights are especially exciting if you're a toddler or a cat.)
Of course there's the other side, too. Holiday stress is real for many of us--and it can come crashing down our chimneys with reliable predictability.
Some people hold their breath and just hope for the best, especially if their holiday stress results from spending the holidays with extended family.
According to this Harvard Medical School article, 62% of adults experience "very" or "somewhat" elevated holiday stress levels, partially attributable to family relationships.
After all, family dynamics can be tricky, especially once we have children. Yet, we want our children to experience all the joy that should surround them this time of year, right? Holidays stress doesn't have to be their thing just because it's ours.
Although I won't write about my own holiday stress here because my extended family will read this---I mean, because they're perfect (ahem)---I'll tell you how some people mitigate their anxiety with extended family, especially if All That Togetherness doesn't exactly jingle their bells.
So, what do they do to mitigate the messiness and find joy, instead?
If you're concerned about extended family being a less-than-desirable influence on your kids, find joy and peace in the connection you've created.
If you've parented with the good of the parent-child relationship in mind, then children will naturally gravitate back to the norms of what you've modeled for them.
If you happen to have a child who hangs back at family gatherings, that's perfectly alright. If you're concerned about it, this article about supporting introverted children might help you.
Your kids will join in when they're ready. Let them rest securely in the knowledge that you support their choices and their timing.
For family members who might not understand your child's reluctance to jump right into a big group of people, but who sincerely want to connect with them, you might share ideas like these about how to engage kids without overwhelming them.
Even outgoing kids need support and occasional breaks from the group. Allow them to relax and in your presence, with your full attention. A hug and some verbal support can go a long way.
The more you're there for your kids, the less they'll begin to equate holidays and stress, and will simply find joy in your presence---along with everyone else's.
Many kids love routines and consistency, regardless of age. You can grab your kiddos' usual bedtime story and stick it in your bag if you're visiting relatives out of town.
Odds are good that they'd much rather hear the same story for a few nights in a row than to go without. I call it "Routine in a Box." A few comforts from home will help your child find joy in familiarity, and help you feel merry and bright!
The same goes for touch, even for older kids. If your child normally has a lot of contact with you throughout the day, then he or she will be inclined to crave that and then some (hey, you're their personal lovey!). Stay present. Keep touching.
Obvious, right? Still, somehow, many people go into the holiday stress with extended family as if they were signing up for a hot date in Purgatory. If you find yourself there (with anxiety, I mean, not in Purgatory, because I don't really think that's a thing), give yourself a gold star for each moment you feel peaceful.
Acknowledging and tracking positive feelings among the stressful ones can help you be aware that good things are happening. You can do this, joyfully. Holiday stress and you don't need to share the same strand of lights.
Just like many of us do at home when raising kids, you can take the "pick your battles" mantra on the road, too. It travels beautifully! Things are different now. As the parent of your own children, you get to examine how you were raised.
Engage where you want to. Debate where it's important. This mini-course about what to do when someone you love disagrees with your parenting style can help support you in that.
Ask yourself if you share your extended family's perspectives or have a different take on things. If you observe them, some of your triggers from growing up can offer you insight into your own parenting.
Keeping an open mind can be an incredible gift with psychological benefits, and taking an intellectual approach rather than an emotional one when something bothers you can do wonders for reducing holiday stress. So, you can find joy while you examine your family anew.
More than anything else, be intentional about looking for opportunities to connect and find joy. If Great-Great-Great-Granny's mince pie doesn't do it for you, remember that the cookies are just on the next table over.
Connect with Great-Great-Great Granny over a gingerbread house. Invite her outside to catch snowflakes on your tongues. You might be surprised what she can still do. You, and your kids, will forever cherish the memory.
Holidays and family can, indeed, be a joyful pair, and holiday stress doesn't need to be invited. Our children can see it and be a part of it.
If we've not experienced joy with extended family before, our kids can witness our ability to find it in a whole new way. What a wonderful gift we can give them in allowing them to be part of that.