Much has been said and written about the effects of the holiday season on families, on health, on relationships and on stress. Holidays are so different from our everyday life they bring about many changes, not all of which are welcome. Today, I want to look at what happens to working parents when the holidays approach.
For many years, I worked in corporate information technology. As you would expect, this involved being away from home 10-11 hours every day, commuting during rush hours, occasional overnight travel and feeling stressed and sometimes insignificant.
With this kind of experience at work, all I wanted to do when I got home was to have some peace and quiet for a while, enjoy a pleasant dinner with my family and unwind from my workday. Some days, all I wanted to do was sleep.
In order for that to work, Ronit had to take care of absolutely everything to do with keeping a home and raising kids – housework, shopping, cooking, homework, parent-teacher meetings, afternoon activities and more. I knew very little about what went on during the week and pretty much saw the kids on weekends.
And during that time, I was terrified.
It has taken me years to admit this, but the prospect of spending time with my own kids was scary for me. I loved them dearly and wanted to be with them, I just had no idea what we would do together and I felt out of touch with their world.
I was also so used to thinking about stuff from work (and worrying about much of it) it was hard to find good topics for conversations with them. Talking about some unfamiliar teacher or friend while trying to solve some programming bug in the back of my mind is not easy.
My kids were great and really wanted to be considerate, but they were kids and each of them had his or her own life, full of excitement, mishaps and special occasions. They did their best to help, finish their homework before I got home and make time to be with me. As soon as I got in the door, they greeted me with hugs and kisses and made me feel loved and welcome, but they were so animated there was no way I could keep up.
Sundays were better. It would take me nearly all of Saturday to do what computer people call a “context switch”, get rid of my work thoughts and relax into family life with my lovely wife and kids. Of course, by Sunday evening, it was time to start getting ready to go back to work again…
So basically, if you hold some corporate job like that or maybe run a busy business for hours on end, you are now in the same boat with the holidays. You may be asking yourself frantically, “What on Earth am I going to do with the young ones 24×7 during the holidays?”
Luckily, my last employment ended 6½ years ago and I have had a lot of time to get (back) in touch with my wife and kids. This also allowed me to see things from both sides of the lifestyle fence and I hope my perspective will help you feel better.
How to handle holidays with your kids better
The first step in any change is becoming aware of your situation. If you have read this far and can see yourself in what you have read, you are aware of what is going on in your life and what you are feeling about it.
Excellent. All we need to do now is sort out some misconceptions.
Happy parents raise happy kids
When you are on a plane, they tell you that if pressure cabin drops, you should put your own oxygen mask on first and then assist your kids or anyone else traveling with you.
Holidays are the same. It is not only OK for you to relax and unwind first, it is the best thing you can do. It may seem unfair to your partner and your kids, but they will get much more out of you once you have found your bearings and switched to “holiday mode”.
Spend some time letting your family know how you will need to do this unwinding and ask for their cooperation. Tell them about the oxygen mask if you have to or use some other metaphor, but get the message across that this is best for everyone. Really.
Sharing is caring (1)
Sure, you are the parent, but that does not mean you are responsible for absolutely every little bit of fun. You are not even the best equipped for fun anymore, especially if you have been working for many years.
Kids have vivid imaginations and great ideas. They are also different from one another and enjoy different things, so it is best to let them drive when it comes to fun.
Of course, kids are not very good at planning and come up with new stuff all the time, plus they have an endless supply of energy from God knows where, but once you have given up steering and controlling everything, you can go with the flow at half speed, follow their instructions like a good boy/girl and have as much fun as you can.
Eden used to get Ronit and me to sit down while she conducted a tea party with her dolls and we just had to be there and pretend to enjoy the refreshments. She sometimes even served real cordial or iced tea and cookies, so we did not even have to pretend, but those parties were just not the same without us…
Tsoof used to welcome me home with his soccer ball in hand, take me to the back yard, tell me to stand in front of the fence and try to score goals past me. All I had to do is let a few kicks hit the fence and I was a hero.
Noff used to bounce on the trampoline and get me to throw a ball to her, which she sometimes missed, but she giggled happily no matter what happened. I just had to get the ball back and throw it to her again.
Things do not have to be perfect, realistic or appropriate. Kids do not care about this stuff. They just have to be fun and they know what fun is.
Adapt the rules
Holidays may be a different time, because the kids are off school and you are off work, so there is really no point sticking to the “normal” set of rules.
On the other hand, rules provide a lot of emotional safety to everyone, so just “flowing” will quickly turn into a disaster. It is better to find a set of “holiday rules” that make sense just for that period and help everybody get along.
Consider things like sleep time, eating well, sharing the computer or control of the TV remote, going to friends, having friends over and … occupying Mom and Dad’s time. There may be things you still need or want to do during the holidays and the kids will have a much easier time if they know about these things.
Sharing is caring (2)
By now, you should be a little more comfortable thinking about the upcoming holiday season. You may not be able to imagine it in detail yet, but at least it is manageable, right?
To make it even better and leverage your time off for an even better time next year, it is important to spend time doing the things you like to do and to introduce yourself to your kids.
From time to time, our family goes hiking in “nature” (mountain tracks, mostly), which I just love, and there is something in the outdoor activity that brings stories out of me. So we walk in a forest somewhere or sit by a waterfall and I remember a time when some interesting thing happened to me.
It never occurs to my kids that I was once a child myself or even a teenagers. They do not think of me as someone who plays basketball or gets all excited while folk dancing. Almost invariably, the stories I share about myself are met with surprise and often with appreciation, and I feel that my kids know me a little better after I tell them.
One particular topic, of course, is work. If you have ever asked your kids “What does Mommy/Daddy do?” you know the kind of answers kids can give. They have no idea! It is all grownup stuff, so they do not follow your career and may know very little about why you leave home every day, where you go, why they must wait for you for so long and why you are so exhausted when you come back.
So take the opportunity and share your work experiences with your kids as stories, adapted to their level of understanding. Also, ask them about their time away from you and listen, listen, listen.