If you have children under 5 years old, you can almost guarantee that Christmas (or any holiday) may bring unique set of challenges along with the usual merriment.
Eighty-six percent of U.S. and 53 percent of people mentioned as their “favorite thing” about the holidays. But while spending time with loved ones at holiday gatherings can raise spirits and create feelings of happiness, parents of young children may also find them stressful.
No matter how much we plan and work, things will go wrong—sometimes gloriously so. Things that are likely to go wrong on Christmas:
1. Kids may not act gracious about certain presents they receive
Being kind and polite when receiving a present you dislike or already have is no easy task for a 3- or 4-year-old who has an only partially-developed pre-frontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs making good decisions and being socially appropriate.
All the modeling and preparing in the world may not stop your little one from hollering out, “I already have this!” or wailing, “This is for babies!” in an assertive but embarrassingly rude way.
2. Kids may be high on sugar
Even if you do your best to protect your children with liters of pure water and stashes of carrot sticks and hummus in your purse, they will consume large amounts of sugar such as red and green M & M’s and Aunt Nancy’s famous fruit cake.
Someone may dangle a lollipop in front of your child until a drop of drool actually drips onto his shoe, then mumble to you, “Mind if your child has this?” Your kids will sprint around the room, crazy excited one second and sobbing the next. They will eat less than a teaspoonful of the real turkey dinner.
3. Kids may act nuts around rarely-seen relatives
There's a natural law at play that ensures that children will wait until the very moment Grandma Muriel or Aunt Bea is in the room to morph into baby gorillas mixed with cheetahs. They will sprint around the room burning off their lollipops (see above), chocolate Santas or supersized hot cocoas.
They will play Crocodile Hunter with spears made out of the special-occasion serving forks. They will swear and if they don’t know any swears they will still say “poopy toilet” a great many times.
During “hide and seek,” one child will hide inside the very ottoman that Uncle Charlie has placed his brown-socked feet and dark beer precariously on top of while watching rowdy football. That child will spring open the lid of that ottoman just like a darling jack-in-the-box.
4. Kids may be overstimulated
Kids are used to their routines, not a house of people full on eggnog and small talk. They are amazingly good at picking up on everyone’s moods. They are not used to presents, the buzzing excitement of Santa, or being in a room with 40 people and three dogs for hours on end. They will be edgy and wacky.
5. Kids may not appreciate family traditions like you do
Although you can see the value in 30 years of reading the same antique book on Christmas Eve, one baby will rip a page clean off to teethe on it. Another tot will take her only tooth to the one single ornament that you got from your grandmother and almost swallow its sequins.
6. Kids may take poor naps (or miss them completely)
Kids may decide not to close their eyes when the bed is not their own, smells different or is surrounded by an extremely fascinating collection of Grandma's snow globes. They will protest your plan to have them nap on the long car ride or refuse to cozy up when they know full well that their three new presents that beep and light up are loafing right outside their bedroom door.
7. There may be stress
Juggling the mashed potatoes, apple pie, sippy cups, diapers, outgrown tricycle for your cousin, Christmas presents and your toddler’s inhaler will take its toll. You may be distracted while helping to wash 3 million dishes, so your toddler will need to do some super novel tricks to grab your attention.
8. There may be a mess
There will be clutter, boxes, glitter, tags and glue sticks everywhere. You may feel like you’re drowning in stuff.
But while all these things may happen, you don’t have to focus on them.
The one thing that’s up to you is to find the grace hiding in the corners of the day—like an overlooked Starburst that’s hiding deep in the toe of a stocking.
It takes mindfulness and resolve to deal with diverse challenges while remaining focused on exquisite moments of beauty, joy and love (and make those come alive instead).
Maybe the grace is when your child announces he wants to write a thank-you card to Santa.
Maybe it’s in a warm snuggle as you read a Christmas book with your toddler.
It could in be the way your child belts out a Christmas tune on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house or shares her new dolly with her sister.
The grace might be in a wild dance party where you twirl your toddler to some Jingle Bell Rock, an extra-long kiss with your partner under the mistletoe, or a squeal from your child devouring the holiday pancakes you whipped up for them.
It might be in a quiet moment lying in bed just before everyone wakes up where you can hear the faint church bells ringing out a carol that echoes off the snow.
When you shuffle into Christmas with your pajamas, your slippers, and an unwavering commitment to “scan for grace,” you’re likely to find it everywhere.