Getting through Christmas when it’s hard

19 December 2017

Christmas isn't always easy. How can we coach our kids through it when it's a really hard time of year for our family?

Christmas is a time for joy, celebration, and fun.

Isn’t it?

We can have high expectations for Christmas and feel like it needs to be a time of peace and happy families but in reality, for some of us, Christmas can be a really hard time of year.

During this season when everyone starts sharing their photos of family traditions, their Christmas preparations and all the fun they’re having it can make us even more aware of hard whatever we’re facing is. Perhaps this Christmas is our first since someone close to us has died, perhaps our family doesn’t get along or we just can’t afford the Christmas we want to give our kids. Christmas doesn’t always look the way we hoped it would and sometimes we wonder how on earth we’ll get through it.

My Granny died on Christmas day a few years ago. She had been poorly and in hospital for a few months but she had remained in high spirits. As she passed away I held her hand with my Mum and I both sat beside the bed. It was a sad but incredibly special moment. However, it wasn’t a moment anyone would probably choose to feature as part of their Christmas day.

Afterwards we went back to have our Christmas dinner as a family and spent much of the time reminiscing about Granny and sharing stories of her life and what she would have been doing if she had been with us. It was incredibly overwhelming and I remember feeling like I just couldn’t handle talking about it anymore so I snuck off to my room. My Dad came and knocked on my door to check I was ok, and I explained (I don’t think very articulately) that I just needed to not be doing the happy reminiscing thing but wanted time to just feel sad. He told me that was perfectly ok and that he understood. Although I was an adult kid I very much felt like a child in that moment and being ‘giving permission’ by my Dad to grieve in the way that worked for me was deeply reassuring.

That Christmas Day didn’t look anything like how Christmas ‘should’ be but for us as a family we figured out what we needed and we found a way through. God is with us in our joy as well as our sadness and for us it was incredibly poignant that Granny went to be with Jesus on his birthday.

Sometimes Christmas isn’t going to be easy but for us as parents and extended family we can figure out a way to coach our kids through the tricky bits.

Here are a few questions that might help to figure out what getting through a tricky season might look like for your family:

  • If we know Christmas is going to be tough can we find time as a family to think ahead to the things that might be particularly difficult? Perhaps there are traditions that used to belong to a specific person who’s no longer with us: maybe we want to carry that on but maybe we want to try something different? If you know you won’t be able to afford big presents, can you prepare your children in advance and help them find other ways to give gifts? If you know that spending time with extended family won’t necessarily be peace and joy, can you talk about how families don’t always get on and work out how you will manage that as a your small bit of the family?
  • Are you, and your kids, naturally introverted or extroverted? Christmas can be hectic and full of people. Will this be hard? How can we help our kids to create space where they need it? Can you establish that it’s ok to go our rooms when we feel a little overwhelmed? Or, perhaps we involve them in cooking so they have a task to focus on?
  • Is it going to help our kids feel more settled to stay overnight at home, or not in a busy, unfamiliar house? As a family can you figure out your rhythm for this? Perhaps choosing to base yourselves at home or stay somewhere else?
  • How can we find Jesus on Christmas? Before Christmas Day can we talk as a family about how we want to do this? Can we have a specific time to pray and focus on God or one tradition we’d like to start?
  • How can we create time to be us? Sometimes we can feel a bit like we don’t get much quality time with anyone when we’re with so many people. Will this be hard for our kids? How can we still create time to give each other focused attention in the midst of busyness?
  • Managing personal space. Perhaps our kids aren’t particularly physically affectionate. Christmas can be intrusive on our personal space when there are so many people to greet and then say goodbye to. Can we think in advance about what our family expectations are? Can we discuss this in advance and explain to relatives that if our small children don’t want to kiss we won’t expect them to do something they’re not comfortable with? Perhaps you can chat about different options for goodbyes, like waving, high fives or through using our words instead.
  • Can we create an “out” for our kids if they want to not play with difficult family members? Can we give them a word or actions that communicates they need help to extricate themselves, for example by coming to sit next to you or asking you a question?
  • If this is our first Christmas as a family without a loved one how can we create space to grieve together and individually? Can we chat as a family about how it’s ok to feel sad? Can we figure out as a family how we’d like to celebrate and remember that person as part of Christmas and establish that it’s ok for us to choose to opt when we want to?
  • Are there any boundaries we need to put in place? We can feel that sometimes at Christmas we need to put on a brave face but sometimes we need to choose to prioritise our kid’s safety and wellbeing. If you need to spend time with family but feel it may not be safe then what boundaries can you put in place? For example, not leaving your kids alone with a specific person or limiting your time with them.
  • We may face awkward scenarios at Christmas. Can we role play these in advance with our kids so they know how to reply? For example, when Granny asks for a kiss on the lips, or how to say no to annoying cousins.

Whatever we’re facing this Christmas let’s create space and opportunity to face it together as families figuring out what’s right for us in this season.

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