It’s a Family Affair. Dealing with Festive Stress: 5 Seasonal Saves.

Christmas struggles

How to survive Christmas as a parent. 

Parenting is hard! Everyone has an opinion and everyone is quick to tell you what you are doing wrong. No one really tells you ” you are doing such an amazing job”, “well done” or ‘I really like how you …”   We find our path, we find a way that works for us and kinda go about our parenting journey feeling ok, if not good about our choices.

family on a stoney slate beach. Toddler on fathers shoulders.
Family photo by Kathryn Anne

Then comes Christmas!! For months there is the build up. Toddlers, preschoolers and school aged children become hyped up about it from November (some earlier). December; routines go out of the window, especially when in Early Years settings or school. Christmas plays, parties, talk of Santa, community events, advent calendars, writing Christmas wish lists oh the list goes on!!! Never mind the additional stress we place on ourselves too! Shopping,  family plans, politics and logistics, money, ideas, cooking, parties, traffic, other stressed people, winter bugs and over excited and over stimulated children!!!

The anticipation of it all can be enough to make you want to hide until the New Year. Christmas can be magical, filled with family traditions and creating memories, time together as a family and no work.

24 hours old

Here I’ll share some of the most common challenges during the festive period whether a parent of a newborn (coming from a mum who gave birth on xmas day I know this one well!) or an active toddler/preschooler, along with some suggestions which may help. These are from my experience as a parent and from others I have supported, there is never a right way , or the best way to deal with challenges or how to parent. These are not rules! Remember to listen to your parenting gut instinct . Only you know your child, your family situation and your journey, use those to help you do what is best for your family 

Over stimulation and out of routine:

I never believed in strict routines, for us as a family they don’t work. We needed flexibility. He created his own little routines but they weren’t time and place specific.  I therefore underestimated the impact that December chaos would have on our son. He has never had an issue sleeping in a different house or in fact changes to his bedtimes. But wow! Add more people than normal,  over stimulating environment (lights, decorations, festive music, people more excited and animated) to a familiar environment and bang cue explosions of every emotion possible!

Babies may become more unsettled, they may want to be held all the time, may struggle sleeping, feeding or in fact have no idea what they want or need. That is ok!

Older children may loose all understand and control of their emotions. They may become angry suddenly, upset or over active/hysterical.  That is ok too!

  • Hold them. A sling can be a great way to offer comfort and security whilst creating a friendly barrier to others.
  • Pop out for a little walk. Change of scenery and a break from the busy environment can be helpful for both you as the adult and your child to reconnect and calm. Especially if you feel embarrassed or judged about your parenting or even your child’s ‘behaviour ‘ ** behaviour to me suggest controlled actions and often seen as negative.  I see these ‘behaviours as cues, signs and way to ask for help. **
  • Create a calm/safe space for you to go to. Especially if the weather is awful or you don’t feel comfortable or confident to go for a walk. An escape space that others won’t invade. It is acceptable to ask for a moment of privacy.  Use that time and space to find a way to calm and relax you and your child.  This can be a a feed, snack, story,  drawing,  a game,  something on a tablet/phone, music or just sitting and holding each other.

The idea is find a way to reconnect and a rest from others and a busy environment. Give yourself a break from feeling overwhelmed, judged or from anxiety. Offer your child reassurance,  closeness, and a calm space which respects and understands their feelings, that it’s too much,  they are tired maybe even a bit confused.

When everyone begins to parent!

You have a way you raise your child, routines,  methods approaches,  parenting style you have chosen to suit your family. It is an already challenging time for you all but you are trying! Then comes the helpful family member! They contradict you, interfere midst tantrum calming,  go behind your back, undermine you as the parent and make you look like the worst, most incapable parent ever. 

Some just outright where as others mutter under their breath, but loud enough to hear “in my day…” , “you should / shouldn’t be doing….” oh don’t forget the looks, tuts and eyerolls!

I have no suggestions how to deal with those – what I say and what I may do would vary so much depending on the situation and the adult. My mum I’d tell her ‘thanks but I have this, it is my choice, I didn’t ask for your input. ‘ But my sons great grandmother; I’d let her carry on, just make sure I also carry on as I wish and support my son as needed.

When it all gets too much

What I would say,  especially if you know what sort of things you will face, prepare! Decide on your approach to how you are going to deal with the inevitable triggers for family members. Maybe write down some questions.

  • Feeding (how and how frequently you feed)
  • Sleep (how, where and when your child sleeps)
  • Food (what, when and how they eat)
  • Tantrums/ Crying (how you deal with them/it)

What would you do if you were at home in a normal werk? How would you deal with it?

What would your approach/ action be? What can you do to support those things over Christmas? Could you pre-prepare responses just incase? Like

“Thank you, I appreciate you trying to help. But we have got this thanks”

If they get to you and you begin to doubt your parenting approach due to advice or comments ask yourself:

  • Is it a problem for you? Are you happy with your strategy? Is there a reason you previously haven’t done as being suggested? If so has anything changed? Is there any research to back up their advice? Or is it ‘in our day’
  • What does your gut say? If you were at home, what would you do?

Remember this is your child! This is a unique and strange time of year that as adults we struggle with as well as the children! Remember this is your journey, your choice and you and your feelings matter!   


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