KATE MEIKLE shares her survival strategy for getting kids – and mums – though the silly season. Good luck.
HAVING lived through a handful of Christmases with two small children and written in previous years about some of the challenges that parents face, especially the pressure and sleeplessness of the silly season, believe me, I know what Christmas is like for families.
It amplifies hard-to-manage behaviours from little ones who are out of routine, high on sugar and over excited. And it’s not just the kids – let’s face it we grown ups are over tired, over committed and perhaps some of us (me) have over indulged in sugar and Christmas drinks.
I love Christmas, I really do. You’ll get no “bah, humbug” from me, but to be honest, Christmas has bitten me hard as a mum.
A lot of work, money and emotions go into making it a great time of year and a lot of expectations accompany it that the family will all share wonderfully happy, magical Christmas moments. As my fellow mum friend smiles, rolls her eyes and says in a sarcastic tone: “Ah, Christmas memories…”
Last Christmas, we consciously recognised that Christmas with little ones wouldn’t just organically be the relaxed affair we hoped for without some serious planning, so we came up with a survival strategy. Call out to distinguished Canberra paediatrician Dr Sue Packer, who inspired some of the strategy in her 2017 interview with “CityNews” that has resonated with me.
Our checklist was – are the kids hungry, tired or bored right now? The food strategy was to keep up the kids’ regular meal and snack times. Not always easy when visiting people’s homes, eating out and sometimes forgetting to pack a lunch box for the kids when we go out.
Yes, standards drop for our parenting over Christmas, we are only human! But we tried to make sure the kids had an apple or crackers and cheese available for a snack to help curb the “hangries”.
When the Christmas happy hour kicks in and everyone is socialising and the kids are playing happily in the garden, enjoying the lovely, long, summer evenings, time stretches on and kids’ dinner times are sometimes a last-minute realisation: “Oh crap! It’s almost seven o’clock, what are we going to feed the kids?”
I let go of expectations that my kids will suddenly decide to help me show off my amazing parenting skills to friends and family by suddenly eating broccoli without a fuss, so I stuck to familiar, easy foods. Spend the energy on creating delicious food that the grown-ups will appreciate and let the kids enjoy their favourite food – be it a sausage sandwich or fish fingers.
Tiredness is a big thing in our household. Always has been. Perhaps it’s my obsession (I love my sleep!) but I have found that to be the biggest factor for stress as a mum. Some families either have fixed bedtime routines (like ours) or are super relaxed for their kids to stay up later and their kids tend to sleep longer in the morning, and they don’t understand why my kids can’t sleep in, cause their kids do easily.
Sadly, try as I might, my kids are early birds and have never slept in despite what hour their bedtime is, and can’t manage a late night without completely stuffing up their sleep routine and being nightmares to manage the next day. That’s just where they are right now.
So I have just decided to give events such as carols by candlelight a miss this year and wait until the kids are older and can manage a later bedtime better. I have ended up saying no to events that are later at night as preserving the kids’ bedtime routine is important to us as a family.
Does that make me a “mean and inflexible” mum? Maybe. But I know what works for my family and if that means declining a couple of Christmas events I now have the confidence to stick to my plan.
And lastly, with all the new toys and fun of the season, boredom doesn’t strike as hard as hunger and tiredness, but it’s a good reminder to check in with the kids – they might be playing beautifully with their siblings one moment, but when things start to get out of hand, and the silly behaviour leads to crazy and rough play, it’s time for us parents to step in and redirect the play.
Lego or craft haves been a good choice for giving the kids some quiet play time to recharge batteries. Nipping those squabbles before they become major meltdowns help keep us all in the happy Christmas spirit.
Good luck – and Merry Christmas!