We had a wonderful party at Pjs on Tuesday – OK, a Christmas party at the start of Advent may be a little annoying to some, but in many ways we were modelling one way to help deal with the potential stress of Christmas – ease things over a longer time period. When I was little my parents had to keep back presents on Christmas day for the following days, as I would get very overwhelmed and anxious. A good strategy and if I am completely honest, I still find the day a little overwhelming!
The babies and toddlers at Pjs took everything in their stride of course; some rushed purposefully to the every-week toys and play mat, ignoring the extra Christmas additions, others were particularly drawn to the little picket fence around the Christmas tree. When we temporarily ‘lost’ one young man, he was found lying under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights. Two things stood out for me in my observations:
- 1. A new arrival, 6 months old, cried as soon as I said hello. He cried again later, if I dared to try to go and chat with him, at all other times he was content with his parents company and I probably should have given up trying.
- 2. Parents seemed to take the chaos of the Christmas party with a calm and measured approach. There was no frenetic panic, no visible stress just a sense of joy and gratitude.
My reflection on the crying young infant was of course a timely mindfulness reminder. I often hear people say, “you are so good with babies”; “babies find you fascinating”; and I have, if you like ‘fused’ those descriptions onto the global “I am”. A typical trap regarding well-being in today’s society. We think we are ‘something’ and we become that something; assuming a permanence and control over this and every future situation. The reality is that in that particular moment I may have qualities that gel or don’t gel with that particular baby. No matter how many times I observe an enjoyable response from a baby, there is actually no certainty that I will always enjoy a good response from every baby.
Observing the chilled and engaged parents at the party I was pleased to reflect on whether society is generally becoming more responsive to our unique and individual needs, as parents and children. Perhaps the message is getting across that well-being is about this psychological flexibility that enables us to respond rather than react, and not to fuse with the global claims of being a ‘good parent’ or ‘bad parent’.
Parenting at Christmas can though trigger all sorts of additional stress. This may be because the children are ‘playing up’ or it may be because we carry ancestral ‘shoulds’ particularly around this time of year. Family traditions come to the fore, potential arguments with our own parents and grandparents as they less than tactfully remind us that there is a ‘family way to do Christmas’. I suspect each and every one of us have at some stage pleaded “get me out of here”.
A 2013 Psychology Today article, even though written some time ago; still; I think gives some useful pointers if the stress of Christmas is becoming just a bit too much. Eileen Kennedy-Moore offers six ways to stay calm in tough parenting moments:
- 1) Clap your hands once, forcefully and loudly. The shock of the noise can momentarily stop whatever is going on to give you a chance to think, and the sting on your hands can help you remember that you don’t want to hurt your children.
- 2) Delay your response. If you feel like yelling, try to do something else first. Count. Drink a glass of water….. Even a 30-second delay can help you break through the automatic angry (reaction) and give you a moment to regain self-control.
- 3) Give yourself a time out. You may need to step away from everything to regain control. Make sure your children are safe, and then find a space where you can be alone: the bathroom, the shower, maybe even just outside your door…….. Try to do something distracting and calming: reading, listening to music, yoga, …….
- 4) Get out of the house. A change of scenery can help you feel less trapped. Take everyone for a drive or a walk or just into the backyard until you feel calmer.
- 5) Take an observer’s perspective. We’re most likely to feel angry with our children when we feel like they’re deliberately trying to annoy us. But most of the time, that’s not what’s happening. Pretending that you are an observer can help you take misbehaviour less personally. Maybe you want to imagine that you’re a teacher or a scientist watching your child to figure out what the child needs to learn.
- 6) Don’t go it alone. If your partner or spouse is available, explain that you need a break. Swapping responsibility for the kids when one of you is feeling depleted is an important way that parents can take care of each other. You could also call a sympathetic friend, or better yet, get together with that friend.
All of these tips rely on a more mindful approach to living. Staying in the moment. We give ourselves and our children a much harder time when we ruminate about the fact that “this always happens at Christmas”; “my kids are always…….” If you can easily place a word here, it might be helpful to reflect on that and discover the reality – always? Or in this particular moment?