Keeping holidays focused on the children

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

Mom works and the kids don’t like it

Dear Grandmothers,

Until recently I have been a stay-at-home mom with several small project-based jobs I could do online for extra money during early morning hours. A few months ago, I took on a real online part-time job because our family needs the money. I now work on my laptop at the kitchen table while I cook, while the kids do homework, etc. and time with my 6- and 8-year-old children has been severely cut. My kids are unhappy – “hating mommy’s job,” acting out, making it hard to concentrate when I have to. I feel bad for them and want things to be better but I have to keep this job. Any advice?”

Samantha R., Lakeshore Blvd.

 

Dear Samantha,

We grandmothers claim to know almost all there is to know about raising kids, but your question leads us first to a confession: When we were young mothers we didn’t have to deal with your problem.

Remember the 50s? Well, probably you don’t, but you’ve seen it on TV. Very few moms worked; they were at home baking cookies and playing with the kids. Except the truth of the matter is, we didn’t play with the kids all that much; the kids entertained themselves for the most part. And some of us got tired of baking cookies and wished we had jobs so we’d have our own bank accounts. The good old days.

But your children won’t be comforted much by watching re-runs of Leave it to Beaver. They expect to have as much of your attention as they ever did, and they resent having to share you with your job.

Being a modern mom you probably did frequently bake cookies and play with your kids, and now you can’t do that as often. What many parents feel in this situation is guilt, and it comes out when they say things like: “I have to work so we can buy [brand name] video games and [brand name] tennis shoes and eat out regularly at the [brand name] hamburger emporium. And won’t we have fun at Disneyland this summer?”

Parents don’t like to disappoint their children and they don’t want to hear about their children’s unhappiness. So they try to jolly the kids out of it.

In a word, don’t. Instead, acknowledge in full their anger.

Try to find out all the specifics of their resentment, and don’t try to convince them that they’re exaggerating and it isn’t so bad as all that. You don’t have to agree – just listen and nod understanding.

Tell them that you miss having things the way they were, too. Swallow your guilt and listen to their sadness. Just feeling “heard” by you will make them feel better, the same way you feel better after having confided your problems to a friend who is a good listener.

Then start talking about ways you all might adjust to this new reality. They don’t need to hear the details of the electric bill being overdue and the car needing a new transmission, but you can talk about being a family and working together differently now.

Recognize your children for managing to solve a problem or do a task without your help that, in the past, they might have asked you to do. Emphasize how capable they have become; tell them that, in fact, their help would be appreciated with some of the household tasks that you used to do all by yourself.

Explain how you could be spending more time with them if you were doing some of these tasks together; while you’re working at the kitchen laptop, for example, they could be helping you get dinner on the table. They could certainly learn to help with the laundry, and assist in clean-up after dinner.

They might complain from time to time about their newly assigned chores. Bbut you could end up feeling less pressured; they more competent and needed; and all of you important members of the family team.

Be sure to schedule some family play times as well, and strictly adhere to that schedule. Don’t make these costly outings that you can’t really afford, but research some inexpensive or even free activities: ice skating at Wade Oval costs nothing more than $3 skate rental; the zoo charges no admission on Mondays; a favorite family board or card game is free. So are hikes in the woods.

During one of those hikes you might tell your kids about that job of yours and how sometimes you don’t like it but often you do, just like sometimes they hate school but often they actually have fun there.

Tell them in words they can understand what exactly your work entails, and what you had to learn to be able to do it – and branch off to a discussion of the kind of work they might want to do some day. We want them, after all, to appreciate the world of work, and look forward to it.

You don’t have to tell your kids this next part, but you could help yourself feel less guilty by realizing that you’re actually teaching your children some valuable lifelong lessons here.

Although life can be hard we can usually find ways to cope, and children need to learn this as they grow up; they will be better prepared for the challenges they meet later on.

And you and your husband are setting a wonderful example for your children by working hard together to do what needs to be done, without resentment or blaming anyone. (Of course, there are sure to be times when you do feel resentment; try to voice these only to each other, after the kids are in bed.)

Some day these will be the good old days.

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Handling holiday disappointments

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it.

Grumpy Ballerina

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes it.

His favorite TV shows, his nursery school teachers, the Santa on whose lap he sat last week at the shopping mall, his older siblings and playmates have all convinced him of it. Everyone is as happy as happy can be during holiday time because they’re all going to be given exactly what they want, and a few things they never even imagined, besides.

And then the crash comes. Maybe it’s because her divorced mom and dad didn’t get back together as she had hoped they would after all.  In fact, dad didn’t even show up;  he just left a gift under the tree. Maybe it’s because she got the flu and spent most of Christmas throwing up.

Maybe it’s because she got in a fight with her brother over a toy they both wanted and got put in “time out” by an unusually crabby mother. Maybe she didn’t get that puppy she had asked Santa to bring her. Maybe it looked to her like her sister got way more presents than she did.

Whatever the cause, if she knew the words, she would tell us that she is terribly disappointed. And if she did, we her parents would be terribly disappointed.

Feelings on the fridge

Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions.

We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled surprised has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing furious has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated exhausted has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the fly 

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling angry that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it?  But you see, Mommy is feeling worried that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to grips with feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or Christmas not turning into the golden day it was supposed to be.

And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, a candy cane, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is.

Even worse is when something we have done – or haven’t done – is the cause of her unhappiness. Or when after all our efforts and accumulation of bills she isn’t appreciative of what we have bought and wrapped and put under the tree. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to joyful and proud and excited, not to mention grateful.

And then there’s the matter of her missing the daddy we sent away without consulting her.

Words won’t make the feelings disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours.

As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First we need to realize two things:

  1. Expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them.
  2. If we encourage our children to express their feelings, we’d better be prepared to listen to some feelings that we didn’t really want to hear.

Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him – nor should we try.

The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise.

Preparation helps

This holiday season we don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but we can at least prepare our children for the inevitable disappointments.  One way to do this would be to ask our son or daughter what they are anticipating, and then explain, if necessary, that some of their more extravagant expectations just aren’t likely to be realized.

Then we need to work on our own unrealistic expectations for the holiday season and be prepared for not only our own disappointments, but our children’s.  We’ll be able to listen and empathize, and offer our understanding along with a consoling hug – then return to the family celebration as if disappointments were a natural part of life. Because they are.

Even at holiday time.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net