I seem to have found myself with a couple of spare moments and a handy computer to hand (or rather, that is what I am telling myself, I am resolutely ignoring the unmade beds waiting for me upstairs, they are airing; that is my story and I am sticking to it), so I thought I would (as you do if you are me) put my fingers to the keyboard and share a little of what we have learned about surviving Christmas.
- Look after your health. We have been in the unfortunate position of being hospitalised thanks to various forms of chest infection several times over Christmas. It’s no fun. Sometimes, you have to accept that looking after your, and your children’s health has top priority. This is especially important when you have a young family, you aren’t getting enough sleep because of said young family, and there are members of the family who have reduced immune systems. Which leads me to:
- Think about reducing the number of communal events you attend. This is really difficult once you or your children hit the school system, but really, sitting in a cold church with a flushed and coughing child isn’t the way to get everyone into the festive spirit. You won’t get better, your child won’t recover and you will spread the germs about to someone else’s family. Be sensible. Christmas only comes once a year, it’s true, but it happens at the same time every year, so you know you’ll get another chance, all being well.
- Set your own expectations. It’s a bit like holidays with the children, really. If they are happy, everyone can be happy. There is an element to Christmas that is a bit like weddings; everyone has an opinion and everyone has a vested interest, but really, and especially if you don’t get much time off at Christmas, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have the day off that you want, or that your family needs.
- Make plans early. If having a Christmas day that works for you and your family means changing family traditions that have been set in stone since forever, start the conversation early, in, say, August.
- Adjust your expectations. Christmas can be a challenging time for everyone, and that’s before you add in special needs. Some things may well have to be left. Like family expectations, the trick (for me, anyway) is to think about the things that are really important to you and either keep them, or work towards them if your family members don’t feel the same way, and ditch the rest. Understanding that the ‘perfect Christmas’ – whatever that is – is mostly fake helps to keep everything in proportion.
- Keep calm. I know it sounds trite, but Christmas can be overwhelming for ordinary children; and even more so for those with a little something extra. Along with your expectations, keeping a lid on theirs can go some way to helping them get through the day without too many tears and tantrums.
- Go easy on the gluttony. Every year, at about half past eleven on Christmas Eve, I look at my sitting room floor and I feel a bit sick. I bought what I thought was a reasonable amount of presents – and so did everyone else. My boys taught me a lesson (that I continually fail to learn every year) when they were small and I placed a little tin of chocolates as a surprise for them on the end of their beds before they woke up. They were amazed and would have been perfectly happy with that and nothing else. There have been years, when they were small, when the whole gift giving thing was a bit much. Children learn what we teach them. It doesn’t have to be that way. I know it’s lovely to bless them with gifts, but you know, if they would rather everything was a little less exciting, why complain? The same goes for the food. You don’t have to eat – and neither do your kids – food that you and they don’t like, at a time that doesn’t suit you, just because it is the 25th December.
I can’t promise that what has worked for me will work for you. Things like keeping it simple, letting people who have disabilities, or those who just feel like having a quiet time, celebrate the return of the light in the way they like, and finding a bit of room for my own needs works for me – and I am partly advantaged by my own preferences for quiet and calm. Your family, and your needs, will be different.