The Slow Christmas – How to Stay Zen Over the Holidays

new-years-eve-1909061_640Back in the beginning of our lives as parents, my husband and I tried to keep up with what had become our traditional family Christmases. Both of us have split families, and people we needed (wanted) to see in different towns. As a result, we would take on a full three days of celebrating each year, starting Christmas eve and ending on Boxing day, with each of the parties going on until late at night.

At first we brought our newborn son along for the ride, and exhausting though it was, we never considered doing anything differently. Then when he was a few years old, my dad’s side of the family somehow added an extra day to the festivities. They wanted to have a sit down evening meal at a pub 45 minutes drive from our house on the night of the 23rd. Three days of madness turned into four days of exhaustion, and though we loved seeing everyone, we were too tired and stressed to really enjoy any of it. Our son suffered, missed out on sleep and became utterly overstimulated by the constant chaos.

Then our daughter came along and with most of her medical needs being taken care of in the early evening, we were suddenly provided with the perfect excuse to slow down. In doing so, we have discovered how rewarding slow family Christmases can be. In this article, I will share the big changes we made, along with the ways we help our little people cope with the intensity of Christmas celebrations.

Say No to Mornings.

In our old routine, we would be rushing around three out of the four days to make it out of the house in time. We would have a quick thirty minutes to open gifts before having to put them aside, scoff down something to eat and get out the door. A child with a brand new much longed for gift understandably wants time to play with it. When we immediately pack everything away and rush them, it is so frustrating and causes them to feel tense and unsatisfied, which may seep into the rest of the day.

And it’s not just the children.

If you have an afternoon filled with socialising to enjoy (or endure!), it can be really beneficial for us adults to have some quiet, unscheduled time to relax. Enjoy a hot drink while your little ones play on the carpet with their new toy. Leave time to get ready at a leisurely unhurried pace. Explain to your hosts well in advance that you can’t wait to see them, but you won’t be able to make it until early afternoon.

Give yourself the gift of time.

Restrict Party Acceptances and Don’t be Afraid to Leave Early.

You don’t have to say yes to every single thing. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed at how busy you are, don’t be afraid to cancel or reschedule plans. We no longer do the pub meal on the 23rd. It’s too late for us, and it’s just too much for us to manage.

Sometimes these things can seem like a good idea until you get there. We just went to our home education Christmas party. My son had not been keen as we usually meet outside and this was in a hall – he has a thing about halls! As soon as we walked in we were overwhelmed by the noise echoing around the place. It was far busier than I had expected and my son began to cry and ask to go home immediately. He was very uncomfortable and so after a quick plate of food when it was clear that he wasn’t going to play, we made our excuses and left. Just because you’ve said you’ll go, doesn’t mean you can’t leave if it’s not working out. People will understand.

We also leave each event in the early evening, rather than staying until late at night as we used to. My children tend to go to bed around nine pm, so we ensure we will be back home in plenty of time for that. If we were only doing one or two nights, we may be more flexible with this, but overtired children are no fun for anyone, so we try to keep their sleep routines as normal as possible.

Avoid Conflict and Upset.

Christmas is a time when we may find ourselves face to face with relatives we haven’t seen since last year. Sometimes this can be joyful and wonderful. Other times, it can be tense and frustrating. Perhaps there’s a reason you didn’t visit in between Christmases! If your cousin is going to start a long, unhelpful debate about how you are raising your children wrong and causing them long term psychological and social damage by bed-sharing, home educating, breastfeeding or whatever it may be, ensure you don’t get sucked into an upsetting situation.

If you find the conversation heading down a path of judgement, change the subject to something lighter, talk to someone else, or if all else fails, nip it in the bud with a quick, “It works for us and I can see we are going to have to agree to disagree on this topic. Now where’s the wine?”

There is a time and place for these hearty debates and if you are feeling ganged up on, or your words and intentions are being twisted into something altogether different, back out and walk away. You are not obligated to explain yourself to anyone. Some people will never change their minds so don’t exhaust yourself trying. (I speak from experience here!)

Find Quiet Pockets in the Day for Reconnecting.

Sneak off with your child to read a story in a quiet room, by the glow of the twinkling Christmas lights. Take a brisk walk along the seafront or make a den behind the sofa. Use this time to reconnect, to talk and cuddle with your child and see how they are coping. Are their eyes shining with happiness, or are they drooping with exhaustion? Ask them how they are doing. Do they need a rest? A drink? Perhaps meditate together and enjoy a spot of silence.

Family celebrations can be full on, and taking little breaks from the chaos can be rejuvenating for both you and the children.

Split Up the Gift Giving.

Perhaps you have bought one special gift for your child, perhaps you have bought twenty! If you lean towards the latter, consider splitting up the giving of these gifts. Let the child have time to process and enjoy each item before moving on to the next. A mountain of toys can be overwhelming and a lot to cope with. Slow it down. If lots of people have bought for them, consider giving them over a few days or even weeks. There is no need to bombard them with everything at once.

Respect Your Child’s Boundaries.

At Christmas a lot of the rules we take for granted through the rest of the year can become cloudy and confused. We may feel suddenly flustered in the face of a relative demanding your child thank them for a toy. You may feel pressured to make them speak up. But remember, if your child is shy around strangers or hates to talk in groups, Christmas is the worst time to start insisting on these things. Some children will literally clam up in fear when asked to thank a stranger, and to them many of these relatives they see once or twice a year are indeed strangers. It doesn’t mean he is an ungrateful, spoiled brat. It just means he’s not comfortable right now.

Assume the good in your child. Thank the person on his behalf and tell them their gift was very kind. Set an example without making an issue out of it. Children will grow more comfortable in speaking their own words of thanks in time. Don’t panic if it doesn’t come now.

The same goes for physical expectations. Hugs and kisses should be given freely by the child, if and when they choose. Consent is important and if the child says no, that needs to be accepted and respected. Let them set their boundaries when it comes to their personal space just as you would like to do yourself.

I would love to hear how you plan on slowing down and reducing stress over Christmas this year? Let me know in the comments. Merry Christmas and thanks for sticking with me. ❤️

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