Surviving the season - FamilyEducation

Surviving the season

December 10,2010

I looked at the calendar the other day and realized we have 1.5 child-free days left to do Christmas shopping. 1.5 weekday, child-free days and, as many parents know, child-free, weekday holiday shopping is the way to go. I'm a little stressed out by this because, while we've completed some of our shopping, we certainly haven't completed all of it. And then there will be the baking and the wrapping and the organizing the getting-ready-to-leave-town for Christmas on the 22nd, as we do every year.

We have to work hard to keep the the holiday upheaval as low-key as we can around here because this time of the year is probably one of the more stressful times for L.--Christmas and his birthday, I should say, create a tremendous amount of anxiety for him. Like many children on the autism spectrum, L. has an extremely difficult time with all the expectations, family gatherings, chaos, noise, and assorted stimuli surrounding the holiday season. He also doesn't like surprises at all--not even the good kind. He's already showing signs of stress--certain repetitive behaviors have resurfaced, and he's been on hyper over-drive for over a week. He's also battling a sinus infection, which doesn't help matters any, and added to my pile of worries is the one about whether or not he'll be in good physical shape for all the festivities that are fast-approaching.

And there's still all that shopping for teachers' gifts, too, and still the wrapping and organizing and all the baking projects I've been daydreaming about during all this final exam grading--when will those get done?

Last weekened I listened to a really good and timely talk on how to make it through the holiday season emotionally intact--how to meet the needs and expectations that accompany the celebration in general while balancing the needs and hopes of your family of origin with your own needs, hopes, and expectations, and those of your kids. The talk wasn't geared towards parents in particular, but a lot of what was discussed resonated with me in particular. Most people, the speaker pointed out, slip into control mode overdrive over the holidays and our individual well-meaning attempts to make the celebration everything it needs to be for everyone sometimes leaves us feeling spent and frustrated. She suggested using our need to control in different ways: instead of feeling ruffled because aunt so-and-so forgot that you don't eat meat and didn't provide an alternative dish for you, make one to bring along to the family dinner yourself; or, if great-grandmother so-and-so always loses her patience when your child is cavorting around loudly or melting down at the end of a long day of celebrating, be proactive and redirect and/or remove him/her from the situation before it even has a chance to happen. Take charge of the possible difficult areas of your holiday before they overtake it, and possibly supplant the magic and warmth of those other moments--the ones we want so badly to carry away with us each year.

Of course some of what she said was fairly obvious, or maybe sounds too Zen, but I think we all need the reminder now and again. We sometimes let the holidays happen to us, allowing them to unfold in the manner they do, like a runaway train almost, because this is the way they always have. Instead, she advised, envision the holiday you want, and let everything else roll past you like some great river running through someone else's holiday landscape.


One of the posts I wrote two years ago gets linked to quite a bit this time of the year. It was my "Bag of Tricks" post for surviving the holiday season with a child on the spectrum. I re-read it again yesterday and was glad I did, since it helped remind me that we need to start laying the groundwork with L.  for the holiday celebrations now, as we brainstorm ways to help him help himself when he feels overwhelmed and anxious. I'm not sure I would add much to the list, since many of the issues I troubleshooted then still remain. But it is heartening to think about how much L. has grown and developed, and how better-equipped he is now than he was a few years ago, at finding ways to help himself cope with holiday stress.

And this weekend? This weekend the kids and I are baking gingerbread cookies, and hanging out with my parents, who are coming into town to share some special one-on-one grand-kid time before the glorious holidays.

Have a happy weekend!