I recently wrote to Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist and blogger at Dr. Psych Mom, about handling holiday stress as a couple. My husband and I rarely fight (only because he is the calm and collected to my emotional and Italian) but the holidays have a way of bringing out the crazy in
everyone me, especially when money and crowded shopping malls are involved. I figured we’re not the only ones who feel a little extra tension in their marriage around the holidays and knew Dr. Psych Mom would have some good insight without being preachy or condescending about the whole thing. I wasn’t wrong. She also happens to be a motherfreakin riot and a very down-to-earth mom of three, so go show her some love on her blog, Facebook and Twitter. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s my question and her very helpful response:
The holidays can be a really stressful time for a lot of couples, especially ones on a strict budget like my family is this year. I wondered if you have any advice on coping with the stress of holidays in a family with kids, such as financial issues, differences in opinion/beliefs on celebrating holidays, splitting time with both families, spoiling kids vs simplifying, etc. Thanks!
Thanks a lot for this timely question. The winter holidays are the most difficult time of year for many people, and many clients need extra support and extra sessions during this supposedly joyous season. So, you’re not alone in feeling stressed. My personal belief is that extra “stuff” is very stressful: buying it, wrapping it, storing it, dealing with kids fighting about it, keeping it organized, and so forth. I write about my aversion to “stuff” here, and how it stems from a childhood where nothing was ever thrown away.
I think that simplifying and getting each child one “nice” gift and some useful gifts would be a great goal. You and your husband can exchange small tokens, or gift certificates for acts of service (hint hint, and by hint hint I mean vacuuming), love letters, or coupons for date nights. In addition to this, perhaps you can make some new family traditions around giving to others, whether this is bringing toys to a toy drive, “adopting” a child from another country (my kids love to get pictures and letters from the Plan USA kids we sponsor), or organizing a canned goods drive at school or church. “Experience” gifts are also great for kids, like a gift certificate to snowboarding lessons, or something else that your child may remember forever, or will teach him or her a new skill.
If grandparents want to “spoil” your kids, fine, but you could also have them leave some of that stuff at their house for your kids to play with when they visit. But you don’t have to get sucked in to blowing through your savings for toys that we all know your kids won’t care about inside of a week. It doesn’t teach your kids much except that material items are important for happiness, which is generally not a good value in terms of setting kids up for later happiness. The happiness from material possessions is generally transitory, particularly if the items aren’t made special, by there being so many of them at once. If a child gets one doll for Christmas, that will be their special cherished doll. If she gets five dolls, four of them will be abandoned by the end of the first day. Oh, and don’t get more than one gift, or zero, for a baby. They understand nothing. Give them a box or a pretzel. I speak from experience.
Other difficult conversations, like, for example, which set of grandparents to spend the holidays with, will take tact and empathy from both partners. Compromises should be the goal whenever possible, with each partner aiming to make the other happy. If our partner is worrying about our needs, we do not have to be so vigilant about defending our own position. It would really be the holiday spirit for both you and your spouse to try to make the other partner happy in terms of which family to spend the holidays with. And if your own parents guilt trip you, it is a good opportunity to kindly and assertively state that you are doing what’s best for your family, and schedule a different time to see them and celebrate.
-Dr. Samantha Rodman of Psych Mom