Growing Minds: Helping you raise successful humans in a modern world

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Top Tips for Stress-free Holiday Parenting

The Holidays can be a wonderful time of year. A chance to break from the normal routine, gather with family and friends, and return to our higher ideals. But with travel plans to nail down, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, and decorations to set up, it’s understandable that this time of year can begin to feel more like one giant to-do list rather than a time of deep comfort and joy.

Parents especially face their own unique set of challenges this time of year, such as trying to create memorable family experiences while potentially navigating complicated family dynamics.

Bringing a little mindfulness and intention to how you relate to yourself and your role as a parent this Holiday season can go a long way in reducing stress.

Here are my top tips for parents to reduce stress this holiday season.

1) Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

Love seeing the lights downtown but hate Christmas caroling? Don’t let guilt win the day. Evaluate which Holiday activities actually feel meaningful and connecting for you and your family and be okay letting the rest go. A word of caution: if you’re not used to setting boundaries, this could feel weird or wrong at first. However, living inside of your boundaries protects your energy and decreases feelings of stress and resentment, which can slowly build up when we habitually say, ‘yes’ when we really want to say, ‘no.’ It can also be fun and informative to get your kids’ feedback on what traditions and activities feel meaningful to them. Naturally, there’s going to be some give and take here, as you might choose to partake in a Holiday activity that feels more meaningful for our kiddos than for you personally. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, be curious about what motivations might be influencing your ‘yes.’ Could a boundary be needed here? Allow your values, goals, and intentions to guide your decision-making, rather than guilt or a blind sense of obligation.

2) Let go of perfectionism

This is a tough one! Who doesn’t want a perfectly decorated home for the Holidays? We’re hit with a lot of images this time of year that tell us what our homes and families ‘should’ look like, which often includes a perfectly decorated home and a perfectly dressed family, which is equated to happiness and meaning. Although avoiding this messaging is probably unrealistic, it can be helpful to be aware of how you are relating to these messages and images, and be curious about their effect on your overall mood and stress level. Be aware of comparisons and ‘should’ statements that can creep in and dampen your holiday spirit.

3) Give them a job 

It’s easy to feel responsible for single-handedly creating the perfect Holiday experience for your kids. However, besides this probably being an unrealistic and stressful expectation, it can also take away from more organic family interactions and memories from occurring. Sure, the garland might look a little tidier if you strung it yourself, but is that a job your kids can do, and might enjoy? The baking would probably just be quickest if you did it yourself, but could the kids be in charge of part of it? Try to focus on having fun with the process, rather than just the end result/product, and enlist help along the way.

4) Get Outside.

Many of the wonderful traditions we associate with the Holidays are inside activities. Gathering around the kitchen, sitting next to the fireplace, it’s the time to get cozy. To keep everyone’s stress levels in check, don’t forget to take advantage of the natural stress-relieving benefits of spending time in nature, or other self-care activities that feel nourishing for you. Even just a walk after dinner can be a great way to get fresh air, get moving, and reinforce healthy habits for your family.

5) Be present 

If you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed or distracted, practicing mindfulness skills can help you return your attention back to the present moment and make a big difference on stress levels. Mindfulness is simply the ability to bring non-judgemental awareness and attention to your present moment experience. This specific quality of attention allows you to be fully present, while remaining a bit separate and not as overwhelmed by your present moment experience. The good news is that you can practice these skills anywhere, at any time. While there’s no shortage of mindfulness resources to help you get started, my favorite mindfulness practices include bringing non-judgemental curiosity and awareness to your breath or any of your five senses. Mindfulness skills take practice. Garner the support of your friends and check in with each other about how they’re using mindfulness skills this Holiday season to help create accountability and a sense of community.

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is a Marriage and Family Therapist Associate based out of Wilsonville. Stephanie has trained in a variety of child and family therapeutic services including multiple modalities of play therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, child-parent relationship therapy, and collaborative problem solving. Stephanie has over 9 years of experience working with youth and families in a variety of settings and contexts including public schools, the juvenile justice system, and psychiatric residential facilities. Stephanie owns and operates Seeds of Love Counseling, where she focuses on helping children, teens, and families feel and function their best through building strong attachments and positive mental health habits. Stephanie can be reached at www.seedsoflovecouseling.com.