Which Holiday Parenting Mistakes Will You Make?

5 ways to prevent holiday parenting mistakes.

Posted Dec 03, 2013

Did you stand in line on Black Friday to find bargains for those on your gift list? Still feeling the frenzied rush to get everything done? Most of us experience some pressure to locate the right thing at the right price, especially for our children.

We are supposed to be happy and joyous, but the demands of the holidays can quickly sap energy and enthusiasm. Racing around with tired, cranky children, and attempting to please too many people in our lives within the same compressed period can be nothing short of overwhelming. As a parent, you will most likely identify with these parenting mistakes. I know I made most of them at different points in my children’s lives. 

Here are 5 easily made holiday parenting errors—and how to avoid them:

1. Giving into “I Have to Have it” Pleas

Even with half of Americans dreading holiday shopping according to the Pew Research Center, some parents feel that holidays are a time for indulgence. After all, the idea of making children happy, no matter what, may be ingrained into your definition of parenthood.

We live in a culture of yes-parenting—many parents are unable to set limits or say “No” to their children’s wishes. Parents need not bend to every holiday hope their children have, whether it’s for the latest smart phone (no matter how expensive) or to see a holiday performance. It’s particularly frustrating when costly gifts are pushed aside or remain unused for months while parents struggle to pay for them.

Toddlers and young children especially tend to get overwhelmed when faced with many new things. Don’t be shocked if your little ones stick with their familiar toys and well-loved teddy bears instead of immediately taking to a new gift. For older children who beg for one big-ticket item, be clear that if that is what they “have to have,” they won’t get other things on their list.

2. Expecting Picture-Perfect Holidays

Picture-perfect holidays are more fantasy than reality: Someone may break a wine glass; a gift you ordered online might not arrive in time; the dish you’ve been looking forward to making for months might turn out to be inedible or look that way.

And, perhaps most important to you: Your children will not always be on best behavior. Holidays are a time parents like to “show off” their children’s good, even grown up behavior. Parents can insist children say “thank you,” but be prepared for them to act up or argue with each other.

Do insist they be polite, but don’t ask them to act like mini-adults. They may cry during a holiday dinner, tease each other, or refuse to sit on Santa’s lap. Teens may be sullen when they have to attend a family gathering rather than spend time with their friends. Accept that kids will be kids and probably act their age.

The solution for all things holiday: Lower your expectations.

3. Accepting Too Many Invitations

The holidays often prompt parents to look back fondly at their own childhood activities or traditions. The urge to recreate as many of these memories as possible for your child—be they decorating gingerbread houses, holding pot lucks or going to a Christmas show—is strong.

Trying to please everyone—kids, parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and friends can make any parent feel crazed. Cramming too much into the season puts pressure on you to get the kids ready for every party, outing, or visit on top of running seemingly endless errands and cooking.

In the end, your children are the ones who suffer because you have less time and energy to spend with them. As Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, discovered when doing research for her book, Ask the Children: What America's Children Really Think About Working Parents, what children want is for their parents to focus on them and spend time with them. Impossible to manage if you accept every invitation that comes your way.

A calmer, more pleasant approach that positions your children as your priority is to spread out the holiday over a few weekends or weeks. Really, how many holiday meals can you eat in one day?

4. Upsetting Children’s Routines (Too Frequently) 

The holiday rush disrupts your children’s routines. Missed nap times, irregular meal times and traveling can take a lot out of your young ones, and can leave you feeling drained.

For children to be fully present, behaving, and enjoying each activity (even if your family doesn’t get to every activity you’d like), parents should adhere as closely as possible to their normal bedtimes and mealtimes. To do this smoothly, you may need to respond, “NO, thank you” more often to holiday party invitations or get-togethers that interfere with the schedule.

There’s nothing wrong with picking and choosing wisely. Consider it self-preservation.

5. Not Staying Home This Year (or Next)

Sometimes children (and their parents) simply want to celebrate in their own home. If this is the case in your household, listen to your children and be brave. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to change long standing traditions of traveling distances to visit relatives or friends. It is difficult to tell grandparents (maybe aunts and uncles as well) that you won’t be seeing them on the day that you usually celebrated. Most relatives can make the necessary adjustments.

You can also switch it up—have grandparents visit you or start by alternating years you travel to visit them on a holiday. The holidays are a joyous time, but opting out of the holiday travel frenzy and staying home can bring the peace of mind you need.

Please share your holiday parenting mistakes (and solutions if you found them) in the comment section.

Related: If and When to “Spill the Beans” About Santa Claus13 Ways to Make Saying No Easier; Breaking Tradition; Cyber Santa vs. the "Real" Deal 

Copyright @ 2013 by Susan Newman