How To Avoid Holiday Drama
'Tis the season! From demanding travel schedules, balancing time with family, over-served uncles and fighting the urge to spend it all—literally and metaphorically speaking—columnist Lauren Smith Brody answers your most pressing questions about surviving the most wonderful time of the year.
- Written By
- Lauren Smith Brody
- Maria-Ines Gul
For a few years, both of my boys got carsick every single December when we drove across Pennsylvania to my in-laws’ for the holidays. That meant a few things. 1) I became very good at catching vomit in my cupped hands. 2) I will forever be able to brag that I have stripped a child naked on the side of I-80 in the dark in a blizzard. And, 3) No matter how crazy the holiday planning, or how hard it was to get away from work, or how stupid I felt that one year when I left the bag of perfectly wrapped presents in our front hall at home by accident, I was always so damn glad to arrive at their door.
The holidays are joyous for some, fraught for others. But they are at least a little complicated for all. I hope these answers help you through some of your own challenging celebrations.
How do I stop feeling like the holiday stuff we do for our kids is never enough? It always leads to overspending and saying yes to too many things.
What?! You’re tempted to over-indulge your kids at holiday time after they’ve lived through remote school, short-tempered parents, no birthday parties, and 432 up-the-nose Covid tests in the past two years? How could you?!
I’m teasing. Of course many of us feel compelled to give our kids The Most presents, The Most meaningful memories, The Most marshmallows in their hot chocolate, especially right now. But you’re absolutely right to think about helping our kids grow into the most reasonable and kind non-spoiled adults one day, too.
Here’s my two-part workaround:
• Acknowledge the spoilage.
• Balance it with giving.
The acknowledging part is really as simple as it sounds: “Wow, we’re getting to stay up extra, extra late tonight for the lights festival,” or, “It’s your lucky day...I’m going to let you wear that Pokemon shirt to church,” or, “Yes, we’re going to open more than one present on the last night of Chanukah...we got you nine instead of eight this year!” Saying that something is an exception prevents your child from normalizing it. It also makes you the fun mom or dad you want to be. And, it prevents the never-enoughness creep you’re worried about. There are only so many times in a day you can hear yourself say aloud that you’re breaking the rules.
We don’t want to exacerbate existing inequities by giving more more more only to the kids who already have more. So if you fill an extra-big stocking for your own child, do the same for the donated gift drive as well. And invite your kiddo to get involved–choosing the gifts to give, wrapping them up, and going with you to drop them off.
There’s a lot of alcohol at our extended family gatherings that triggers negativity in front of our kids...help!
I got a handful of questions on what one asker called “adult bad behavior.” A daughter in law was annoyed that her MIL loudly compared how much all of the grandparents spent on presents; a couple of people asked what to do when relatives try to discipline their kids, or used offensive language in front of them.
These are all pretty nuanced situations. I mean, whose family doesn’t have some, ah, nuances, right? Of course, your kids’ safety and health is paramount. But assuming none of the “bad” behavior is putting them in any kind of danger, the general rule I follow here is:
“Our house, our rules. Their house, their rules...but we get to decide how long to stay, or whether to be there at all.”
It might also be helpful to talk through some of these challenges ahead of time. A good approach is to think of the goal that everyone has in common and use that as your North Star in the conversation. Here’s what that looks like:
“I’m glad we can celebrate together. We’d love for our kids to have such happy memories of this time with you all. If things get a little too ‘adult,’ we’ll keep them away from the action.”
And try to remember this: We all know that kids thrive with predictable routines. But that also means that they’re aware that occasional swerves–Uncle Larry’s F-bombs, Cousin Minnie’s minor eggnog problem–are just that: not the norm. When you buckle them into the car seat to head home, they’ll feel cozier than ever.
In our family, we have the youngest kids and are doing the furthest travel. It just feels wildly unfair and I feel myself getting preemptively resentful.
So many of you wrote in to say that you’re being asked to bend over backward to accommodate other family members’ desires or traditions. That’s a bitter pill to swallow during what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, particularly if you’ve got little kids.
It’s important to be deliberate in your decisions, even if what you’re deciding is to spend too much money flying across the country to attend a less-than-ideal holiday. If you are choosing to go in spite of the obstacles, really embrace the WHY. Sometimes the “why” is, “because we have the resources and can.” Sometimes it’s, “because it really matters so much to my partner and I love them.” Sometimes it’s, “because I’d rather have a dysfunctional annoying family than not have one at all...pass the eggnog,” And sometimes, most of the time, it’s because you want to go. Own that. It helps.
I like that the question-asker here mentioned resentment because that’s what I’d like to focus on next. Resentment is toxic. But there’s an antidote to it: Getting your way. Finding a win. So, my additional advice to you is to find some “wins” on that expensive, snow-delayed, sleeping-on-the-pullout couch, jet-lagged holiday trip. Can you go out for a date night with your partner while someone babysits (maybe not Cousin Minnie)? Can you take a walk by yourself and call a friend every single day? Can you visit the sea lions at the local zoo and make a sweet memory with your kids? Ask–claim something. Find a win and make the effort count.
Lauren Smith Brody is the author and founder of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity and Big Success After Baby. You can follow her on instagram @thefifthtrimester.