Call me crazy, but one of my favorite things about the holiday season is making the master gift list. I know the holidays are overly commercialized and entirely too stressful, but I love searching for the perfect gift or remembrance for everyone on our list, from teachers, administrators, and therapists, to colleagues, family, and friends.
I am less excited, I confess, about the two week break from school. Few things take the Joy from my World more predictably than a long, unstructured day with my eldest child, Isaac (whom I adore). I suspect I’m not alone. And while it’s easy to feel bad about our sense of dread or wish we didn’t have the challenges we do, there’s no sense in adding guilt to the mix. What we need is a plan.
So I’ve come up with a different kind of list for the next few weeks, a list of things to take this holiday season rather than give. In hopes of creating more peace on earth and goodwill in our homes, I invite you to join me in the following challenge:
1. Take time to connect with your kids.
While we may feel overwhelmed with all of our to-dos, there is one thing to do that truly is the most important, and that is to draw our kids into shared experience.
For little ones, this may mean reading a book together or playing with toys. For school age kids, it might mean playing a game or cranking up the music and dancing to their favorite song. For teenagers, it might mean taking advantage of the slightest opening to talk about life at school or with friends.
And good news, it doesn’t have to be an hours-long commitment. With the exception of TV and Roblox, Isaac (13) loves nothing more than playing with cars. As often as he can, my husband, Todd, goes up to Isaac’s room, sets a timer, and plays cars for 10 minutes. No questions asked, no rules, just play. When the timer goes off, Isaac knows they are finished, but the connection lasts for hours.
Whatever your child’s age, the work is the same: to enter their world, however briefly, and remind them that they belong in yours.
2. Take a few minutes to yourself.
Taking time to connect with your kids will be easier to accomplish if you also take time for yourself. As you already know, this will not happen unless you make it happen. A 30-minute walk or dedicated journaling time, a 20-minute hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium rich and good for relaxation), or 15-minutes of quiet meditation. These are just a few examples of restorative practices that give back far more in wellness than they take in time.
We all know it’s important to take care of ourselves, but there is a difference between knowing something and doing it. Two years ago, I finally stopped “knowing” what was good for me and started doing it, and it has made a world of difference in my physical and mental health. Finding an activity that helps you let go of the stress you are carrying is a gift not only to yourself but to your entire family.
3. Take a holiday from screens.
It may be a favorite activity for your kids (or even for you). I’m not judging. And like me, you may actually appreciate the relative calm and quiet that settles over your home when the kids are on their tablets or phones. But two things we rarely achieve on screens are a connection with our kids (see #1) and truly restorative time to ourselves (see #2).
Taking a break from screens is a regular practice at our home. Every weekend, we make one day device free. The kids complain and try to negotiate their way out of it every time, but once we’re in the rhythm of the day, they become different humans. They spend time outside, play independently (in small stretches, granted), and interact with us more readily. They become kids again, in the best sense of the word.
You don’t have to do it for two weeks straight, of course. But I encourage you to try it at least a couple of times over the break, maybe on your family’s holy day(s) or on New Year’s Day, or both. After the initial protests, you might be surprised by how much you enjoy a device free day. Your kids might be surprised, too.
Who knows, maybe this simple list will be the start of some new traditions that last well beyond the holiday season.
Ann Bell Worley is an author, presenter, and mother of two children, one of whom has a rare XY chromosome difference as well as an elusive neuroimmune disorder. She is the author of two children’s storybooks based on Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) and the creator of www.graycoloredglasses.blog, which focuses on the challenges of parenting a medically complex child.