Parents naturally set aside many of their own needs for the sake of kids, family and work obligations and this pattern can become amplified during the holiday season.
When someone is experiencing depression and/or anxiety one is “a human being with unmet needs,” notes Johann Hari, in his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions.
When parenting young children, parents are suddenly “joined at the hip” with a little person but may feel isolated from family and friends as they try to meet the persistent demands and needs of their offspring. A sense of belonging and enjoyment might be hard to find if most of their friends haven’t taken the leap into parenthood or family and friends are unaware of/unwilling to help with the little ones.
Here are some strategies to consider when planning holiday festivities:
1. Naturally, leaving kids at home with a sitter is a great way to have adult fun, but this isn’t always practical or possible. If kids are tagging along, one might ask someone for childcare relief at gatherings. Letting friends and family know about needed support during the festivities can free up parents to shift their brains into adult fun.
2. Often, non-parent friends don’t realize and grandparents forget the cost on the parent and child in changing routines that can happen when holiday happenings lead to varied nap and bedtimes. Parents can communicate these consequences to family/friends. “The kids will be cranky if we meet at that time.” “The baby doesn’t fall asleep easily when he’s not in his room and will be fussy the next day.” “I’ll be tired from staying out late and the baby gets up at 6.” It’s okay to ask friends and family to adjust the schedule/meeting place for little ones. It won’t be forever. A young one’s sensitivities to routines diminishes over time and it will get easier. But often others don’t realize what parents need unless they are told!
3. If one thinks they can take the kids to a party or shopping and run errands based on a hope that they will sleep through it or be able to behave well, it might be best to prepare for worst case scenarios. Unless a parent knows their child is reliable in these situations, “dividing and concurring” with a partner might reduce stress and unwanted tantrums. We’ve all seen the melt down at Target. Kids want parent attention and it’s hard to give it when the parent’s brain is focused on checking off the shopping list or talking to a friend.
4. Parents may wish to plan some activities that they enjoy and are good at and reduce activities out of obligation. If a parent has to take a break from doing for others for a few Christmases in order to parent their little loved one and take care of themselves, chances are, their extended family will understand and remember the track record. Whether it’s baking cookies, decorating or getting more sleep, parents may benefit from prioritizing the things that they need to make the holidays more enjoyable.
Hari points out that if someone is feeling depressed, it’s a signal. The body is grieving for the neglected self! Parents may benefit from asking what they need to enjoy and thrive during the holidays and seeking support to accomplish it.