How To Survive Family Holidays When Your Kids Are Young


Okay, close your eyes and think of holidays, either Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah.

Are you conjuring up images of your family sitting around the table, happy and smiling as they pass round the plates of steaming holiday food to each other or maybe you picture it snowing outside while you unwrap presents that everyone loves, laughing and joking about shared family moments?

Well that is all very nice but of course there’s the reality: family members are squabbling, kids rip off the paper and barely glance at the present before moving on to the next one and someone (probably you!) is running around like a headless chicken trying to trying to please everyone.

The discrepancy between our expectations and reality can leave us disappointed and not exactly filled with the holiday spirit. That’s why we have to take time to follow some holiday stress management tips:

Tip 1: Listen To Yourself & Be Realistic

Ask yourself what is that you (yes you, not your mom, mother-in-law, partner), want the holiday to look like. Often we are so busy making sure everyone else is happy that we end up frazzled and disappointed.

When you didn’t have children it was easier to travel between your and your partner’s parents’ homes and happy to fit in with each other’s family traditions.  Your parents can often expect you to do what you have always done and of course want to spend time with their grandchild.  It’s hard to travel with a new baby but you don’t want to disappoint anyone. If you do end up rushing around all over the place it can leave you exhausted, disappointed and irritable. If you try to keep your young child up so they can partake in all the traditions it can leave you all overwhelmed.

When you become a parent yourself give yourself permission to start your own family traditions and do them to your own time-frame.Listen to what your needs are. I don’t mean trample other people’s needs but speak up about what you want to and…

Tip 2: Ask Your Family To Compromise

The number one concern I hear at this time of year from parents with young children is how difficult it is if they take the baby/toddler out of their usual routine. It usually ends up with major meltdowns and over-tiredness the next day – which you have to deal with, not them.

So what’s the alternative? If you invite everyone over to you, that’s a lot of hard work but if you delegate and challenge your need to have the house and food all looking perfect, hosting both families can be doable. Keep it small, grandparents and your close family members and let them know ahead of time what the plan is going to be so all of you, baby included, can be relaxed and not overwhelmed or over-tired.

I was brought up to celebrate Christmas by having a late lunch of turkey and all the trimming on Christmas Day followed by present opening. Yes! My siblings and I had to wait until about 4pm to get our presents as children! My husband’s family always had a special meal and opening of presents on Christmas Eve (which just seemed wrong to me!). By the time their meal, which takes a lot of preparation, was cooked and eaten, it meant gifts were being given about 10pm.

Then the first grandchild (my oldest came along) and my husband and I suggested (okay, forced) a family-wide compromise. We still had the special Christmas Eve meal but had half of our presents first so the little one could be tucked up in bed at a reasonable time so he was not overtired on Christmas Day. Then we had had the other half of our presents on Christmas Day after the turkey.

I think our children will look back at their childhoods and always want their presents split over two days. It also helps to spread out the cheer having two special meals. On the flip side, it also doubles the meal preparation but both of our traditions were met. So start thinking and planning now, what can your family do to make sure everyone gets at least some of their needs met and therefore feels the holiday spirit?

So what are all the alternatives? If you invite everyone over to you, that’s a lot of hard work but if you delegate and challenge your need to have the house and food all looking perfect, hosting both your and your partner’s families can be doable. Keep it small, grandparents and your close family members and let them know ahead of time what the plan is going to be so all of you, baby included, can be relaxed and not overwhelmed or over-tired.

Alternatively, ask your family to move the traditional schedule (food, presents giving times etc) so it is baby and young child friendly. Things definitely won’t change if you don’t speak up. If your family won’t change be clear on what you can join in with and what time you will have to leave. No, you are not being difficult. You are the person who knows your child best and what they can and can’t cope with. Most importantly, you will be the one that has to cope with the aftermath of an over-tired kid! If people are not happy with that, smile and say hopefully when your child is older you will all be able to go back to the old traditions. You can deal with future holidays when they happen.

Tip 3: Pick One Tradition That Means The Most To You

Perhaps you have certain traditions that stem from your childhood and you want you make sure your kids have wonderful memories of them too. But let’s face it, your life is already busy and your hands are full so how do you think you are going to fulfill all of those expectations of your holiday should be like?

Sit down with your partner and discuss and choose one or two things you each want to make sure happens because it means a lot to you. Yes, one or two things, not ALL of the things you are picturing.

Let’s stop doing traditions that don’t work for us anymore just because we always have done it that way. You can’t have a meaningful holiday until you decide what it is about the holiday that makes it meaningful to you.

Tip 4. Find Someone Safe To Vent To

Holidays usually mean spending time with families and that of course means spending extended periods of time with people you love but who know how to push your emotional buttons. It’s hard to hold in hurt feelings and irritations and still be calm. This is why it is important to vent but pick the right person to vent to. Your partner may be great hearing about how your mom is so frustrating but not so great if you are criticizing his mom.

You want to choose someone who has some emotional distance from the situation, has a lot of empathy and will not bring it up against you in the future. Pick a neutral person, give them a call or even a quick text that says “Agh!!!!!” and know they will reply with “Hold in there!” Or “Anything I can do?” It’s nice to know someone has your back.

If some relationships with family members have a long history of leaving you with frustrated it can be good to get advice ahead of time and come up with a plan of how it is best to react if a difficult situation arises. Problem solve and ask yourself is it worth trying to sort this relationship out right now (on Christmas Day the answer is always no), do a calming deep breath (see Need A Simple Way To Keep Calm?) and resolve to either always ignore it or work on a way to resolve relationship difficulties it in the New Year.

Tip 5: Look After Your Own Emotional & Physical Needs.

The most important tip is make sure you are looking after your own emotional needs. If you look after you and  take the time you need to not feel overwhelmed, cranky or stressed,  you can be calm and emotionally available to give your child the holiday that you want it to be.

If you have any questions after reading this post please call Sarah on 847 791-7722 or contact her via the form below.

Dr. Allen has written five booklets that you might find interesting.

Simple Steps To Overcome Anxiety, Simple Steps To Overcome Depression, Simple Steps To Overcome Emotional Eating, Guide To Pregnancy & Postpartum Issues and How To Stop Arguing With Your Child


See each specific webpage to download one or many or visit my blog for many posts about all these issues.

Dr. Sarah Allen specializes in helping people overcome anxiety and worry and she put together a booklet with some strategies she gives to her clients to help them begin to feel less stressed. She hope that you will find it helpful too!

Also, if you would like to read more, there are several blog posts  about anxiety and other issues that can affect the way you feel.

When you feel ready to start working on reducing your anxiety, Dr. Allen can help you overcome worrying in one-on-one individual counseling sessions.

In a supportive environment with a therapist who has over 25 years experience you can learn how to reduce worrying by:

  • Learning a variety of relaxation and breathing strategies which can help you reduce your overall levels of stress and help you face anxiety-provoking situations.
  • Learning how to distinguish between worries that require your attention and worries that are unnecessary.
  • Learning skills to manage anxious thoughts and to tackle fears that may have been holding you back.

Dr. Sarah Allen also specializes in helping pregnant and new moms transition to motherhood, whether it is your first or one of many. If you would like more information about pregnancy or postpartum anxiety and depression she has written a FREE booklet called A Guide To Pregnancy & Postpartum Stress, Anxiety & Depression which you can download it here or see below.


The booklet can provide a great starting point but if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms, they just don’t seem to be going away or if the self-help strategies are just not enough, you may want to think about how counseling can help.

In addition to 20+ years of working with mothers and families, Dr. Allen has also served 16 years as the director of the Postpartum Alliance of Illinois, a statewide nonprofit organization that provides support to pregnant and postpartum women and their families.

Her extensive experience will help you create strategies to cope with feelings of guilt, sadness, and anxiety, adjust to the life transitions that baby brings, and balance the needs of your family, relationships, career, and self.

There are more details on the Pregnancy & Postpartum Treatment page and there are also many posts about pregnancy and postpartum issues on her blog.

If you have any questions about how counseling can be useful to your particular circumstances. Please call Dr. Allen at 847 791-7722 or email her below. No two moms’ experience is the same but everyone can benefit from support.


If you are thinking about getting counseling and you’d like to talk to someone about the things that are troubling you, I am happy to help.