By Barb Baycroft
The holidays are here again, and with it the anticipation of the perfect family gathering. We sit around the perfect tree, unwrap the perfect gifts, and share the perfect meal where all of the children sit in chairs and use words like “please” and thank you”.
Never a harsh word is heard.
Everyone knows the holidays are a time of happiness and joy for all. We see it over and over again in the movies, the music, and the advertising that fills our every waking minute for the month before Christmas. There is a lot of pressure for perfection that very few of us actually enjoy. For all of the joy and happiness the holidays can bring, they can be equally stressful and often depressing. The good news is there are things we can do and places we can go to help put some “happy” into the holidays.
If you find your self short of food, or the ability to bring Christmas to your children you can contact your local Social Service Department for access to the food bank or the food basket program. You can also ask about the local Secret Santa programs that can help you put gifts under the tree and in some cases provide the tree itself. Every town has a department of social services where town residents can find help year round for anything from getting heat to finding a day camp subsidy for kids and everything in between. In Madison contact Wendy Larson at 203 245 5645, Guilford contact Tammy Defrancesco at 203 453 8009 or, Cheryl Church at Clinton Social Services at 860 669 7347. Many of the local churches also have programs to help families and individuals and can be contacted through the local social services or directly.
The very fact the holiday hype always includes discussion of the family gathering can create a sense of loss and loneliness for those who do not have a family to go to. However, during the holiday season many of us find ourselves without family due to death, divorce, and distance. Seek out opportunities to be with others. Let people know you are alone and would welcome an invitation to share their family time. Host a gathering of your own and call it “chosen family”. For a family experience of a different kind, volunteer at the local soup kitchen. To find the one near you call Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantries at 860-388-1988.
The holidays can be a source of great stress for children and especially children whose families who have experienced divorce. Parents can often unknowingly use the holidays as battleground, and their children’s affection as a powerful weapon in the war with their ex-spouse. Unfortunately placing children in the center of the adult conflict does not only cause the child holiday stress, it causes long term damage, it really only hurts your child. Try being supportive of your ex as painful as that may be. Do it for your kids. If you can’t say any thing nice about the other parent just say nothing at all. Avoid the temptation to buy your kids affection with bigger and better gifts to make the other parent look bad. Remember the greatest gift you can give your child is two competent parents that love them. For more information about how to protect your child from the damage of divorce contact Madison Youth and Family Services about the “Dissolving a Marriage Saving a Family” program at 203 245 5645.
Perhaps your challenge is navigating the minefield of the family gathering. Families can and do put a lot of pressure on us in ways we often don’t notice. It is amazing how we can be reasonable, responsible, and even respected adults in our daily lives, and the minute we enter a room with our parents and siblings regress to our childhood. Suddenly the room is filled with all of the characters that we called family as children including: the know-it-all, the loser, the whiner, the middle kid, the one who talks too much, the one who talks too little, mom’s favorite, and the list goes on. Just knowing this is just part of life with a family-with-memories can reduce the stress. So lighten up and have a little fun with it. Can you pick out and name the characters in your family? Enlist your spouse or sibling in the game. Remember your family may have defined your childhood, but it does not define who you are today.
Nothing is more stressful than getting advice from your family, and nothing attracts more advice than your parenting skills. What do you mean you are not bothered by your daughter’s pierced nose or your son’s blue hair? Shouldn’t your kids eat vegetables? There is no sure fire way to stop your family from sharing their wisdom, however you can try to reduce the opportunities. Holiday family gatherings are not the time to teach your kids new behaviors or change the old, but setting some expectations can help the family bliss. If you have never expected your kids to eat vegetables, now is not the time to change that. Enlist your kids to be your ally and talk about behaviors in advance. Perhaps the issue is no cell phones at the dinner table, the need for manners, or perhaps just noticing how nice Grandma’s table looks. Kids generally will rally if you give them the chance. For more parenting strategies for the holidays contact Madison Youth and Family services 203 245 5645 for information about “Surviving the Season” or Parenting Tweens” Above all remember the holidays are just that a holiday. So try to plan activities that include rest and relaxation for you and your family. Most important, have a Happy Holiday!
Barb Baycroft is a Children’s Mental Health Worker, Nationally Certified Counselor, Parent Coach, and clinician at Madison Youth & Family Services. She has over twenty five years experience working with children and families and can be reached at email@example.com