Deck the Halls, Not the Relatives by Karen Dawkins

BonBon Break

Deck the Halls, Not the Relatives by Karen Dawkins

~:: Family Travels on a Budget ::~

Holiday tips for the family

This article is the third in a three part series about holiday travel. You can read the first article here and the second one here.

Happy holidays — the season has finally arrived! Yet, here in the season of love, peace and joy, so often we get the opposite. Just when we start reminding the kids to be kind, because Santa Claus is coming to town, they morph into little monsters. Anyone who has tried to capture that perfect Christmas card photo of sweet, smiling cherubs oozing with love understands. True photos would show sister tugging on brother’s tie, while big brother gives sister a “wet willie.” Yet, we continue to believe…


Maybe that’s the magic? We never give up on that dream of holiday perfection. Read on to discover three “gifts” for perfect holiday gatherings.


For years, I dreamed of perfect holidays. My Thanksgiving would include a house filled with decadent aromas and a loving, extended family that gets along perfectly. My family would be dressed in coordinating holiday outfits, posing for perfect photos. At Christmas, every gift would be lovingly purchased, wrapped in ribbons and bows and tucked under a glittering tree.


Of course, reality meant something different. We’ve had our share of Thanksgiving dinners that didn’t go quite right. One year, my mom fell over the open dishwasher and broke her elbow. She and my dad spent Thanksgiving at the E.R. while the rest of us dined at a fairly subdued table. Another year, my husband attempted his first deep fried turkey (a southern delicacy, I assure you). Unfortunately, that particular Thanksgiving was quite cold and windy. The fryer oil took hours to heat and the turkey wasn’t done until 10:00 that night.


Christmas is no different. Once, our tree became a nesting ground for spiders. Thousands and thousands of baby spiders shared our holiday. Ick! Another year, I couldn’t remember where I hid the kids’ gifts. Perhaps the worst Christmas was when one of my kids decided to wake his brother insanely early (3:00 AM) to open their stockings, and the whole rest of the day was a whiny disaster. I could go on…


Though my holiday reality hasn’t lived up to my holiday ideal, I have learned to enjoy the season, no matter what. In the spirit of the holidays, I offer you these three “gifts” to unwrap and enjoy, from Thanksgiving all the way through the holiday season.


Gift One: Prepare kids ahead of time


Let’s face it, life is stressful. The holidays — cooking, parties, family gatherings, house decorating, shopping, wrapping, and celebrating — are more stressful. High holiday expectations make for more stress.


Most kids thrive in structure and predictability. They like movies where they know the ending. They would eat mac-n-cheese for dinner every night of the week. They have bedtime rituals. Routines offer security to kids in this busy world.


To help kids adjust to the wonderful craziness of the holidays, “walk” them through it ahead of time. Explain your plans. If you’re traveling, talk to them about the journey (car or plane), where you’ll be staying, and importantly, where they will sleep. Show them pictures of people they will see and tell them stories. If you can, show them pictures from previous holidays. Kids will be more comfortable knowing they’ve done it before, even if too young to remember the previous year’s Christmas dinner.


Along with that, let them know your expectations. We talk about table manners, attitude, bedtime — and what time is acceptable to wake up! We give our daughter, who is much younger than her cousins, a key word to use if she feels overwhelmed. A hand signal would work as well. When she couldn’t keep up with the big kid conversation at dinner last year, she looked across the table and asked, “Can I have a snowman?” Our key word that time was “snowman,” so I knew instantly that she needed out of the situation. I excused us both from the table and gave her a few minutes of much needed one-on-one time.


Of course, expectations apply to older kids too. Let them know how much time they’ll have for video games, zoning out with headphones, and texting. Explain your expectations for helping with meals and clean-up, attitudes, and even how to receive gifts they don’t like. When they know your expectations, they can better handle whatever surprises might come up.


Gift Two: Communicate your needs


Families with young kids know how important schedules can be. The same is true for kids with special needs, whether medical, social or dietary. Extended family members, though, may not remember the challenge of the early years or understand the challenges of special needs.


In advance, communicate your family’s needs. If Thanksgiving dinner is scheduled for the same time as the kids’ naps, communicate that. Let the host know that the kids might sleep through dinner. Or, suggest that dinner be moved an hour later so that the kids can participate. With food allergies, communicate needs to the host. Ask that severe allergens not be served at the family dinner, just to be safe. Come prepared with foods the child can safely eat in case an emergency arises. You are your child’s advocate.


A sincere conversation before the event can alleviate many problems. A young mom told me that her mother-in-law scheduled Christmas dinner at the same time her daughter naps. She called her mother-in-law to explain the baby’s sleep schedule and asked if dinner could be moved an hour later so her daughter could participate. Her mother-in-law agreed immediately and the two women grew closer than either expected.


When communicating your needs, realize they might compete with what someone else considers a need. Try to reach a compromise that will benefit everyone. A little empathy goes a long way.


Gift Three: Roll with it


No matter how you plan, prepare and communicate, something is bound to go wrong. Food will burn or spill on the floor. Kids will get sick or cranky, or worse, both! Weather will interrupt travel plans. And feelings will get hurt. That’s how life goes. You can aim for perfection, but perfection is impossible.


Did you read that? Perfection is impossible!


Instead, give yourself permission to have a less than perfect holiday. Learn to “roll with it.” If the turkey fryer won’t heat, do something else instead. Serve mac-n-cheese. Order pizza. Kids will love it and you’ll certainly remember it. If illness strikes and your little one needs constant cuddles, remember that this child won’t want the same when he’s sixteen. Remind yourself that this is what being mom is really all about.


The year my mom fell over the dishwasher lives on. Whenever my extended family gathers, we loudly announce “dishwasher” as it’s opened. Our kids and their cousins are in on it, too, even though it happened long before any of them were born. When we host Thanksgiving, we remember that first deep-fried turkey and the fun candlelit dinner in our pajamas. All the other Thanksgivings, which I’m sure were lovely, are long forgotten.


Pack these three gifts wherever you travel this holiday season. Remember that holidays are filled with stress, especially for kids. Communicate needs ahead of time to avoid awkward assumptions when the day finally arrives. Learn to roll with whatever comes. Use these gifts and deck the halls, NOT the relatives!

Happy Holidays.

ABOUT KAREN: Karen and her family have learned the art of enjoying the travel experience. She shares humorous anecdotes from her own experiences and uses them to equip the reader to travel better. At Family Travels on a Budget, she helps readers plan, budget and experience their vacation dreams. You can follow Karen’s travel advice on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google +.


This post was written by Karen Dawkins for Bonbon Break Media, LLC