For children, the holidays can be a wonderful time. The season is jam-packed with fun activities, such as making gingerbread houses, opening presents, attending school concerts, and going to parties involving tons of sweets. But having a parent with a chronic illness can often put a damper on the excitement.
“In general, children have their own fears and frustrations related to a parent’s chronic illness,” says Lana Barhum, a legal assistant and health writer who specializes in chronic illnesses (and has one herself). “When the holiday season comes around, children’s concerns are no different. They want to celebrate but wonder how their parent’s health will affect plans and traditions.”
This can be heartbreaking to watch as a parent. You want to create special memories for your little ones, but without overtaxing your health. “You don’t want to disappoint your kids and you don’t want to disappoint yourself,” says Katie Carone, the blogger behind Mommy Can’t Dance, which follows a chronically ill mother trying to support and care for her children.
So how do you make it through the holidays stress-free and healthy while also making it a magical time for your kids? Barhum, Carone, and other experts who have been there offer their advice.
1. Good is good enough.
When it comes to getting ready for the holidays, it’s easy to go overboard—from cleaning and planning activities to shopping, baking, and decorating. But all the running around can take a huge toll on your health. Barhum’s advice: Just let go. “Things like having an impeccably clean home, cooking meals from scratch, or playing with my kids when I’m hurting aren’t absolutely crucial,” she says. “A home that is clean enough, ordering takeout, or watching a movie with my kids is just as good and doesn’t compromise my health.”
There’s also no shame in hiring someone to clean your house, or asking for help in general, Carone says. “You don’t want to spend all your energy cleaning and preparing; spend time with the people you love instead.”
2. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
It’s important to let go of expectations when it comes to all the “shoulds” of the holidays. “My kids don’t care about all the things that I care about,” Barhum says. “So, for example, there’s no need for me to spend days baking when it’s perfectly fine for me to pick things up from a local bakery or the grocery store.” Focus on the activities that will mean the most to your family and let go of everything else.
3. Get your kids involved.
Let’s decorate the Christmas tree! Let’s pretend to be Santa’s elves and get the house ready for a party! Let’s see who can set the table fastest! Rather than spending tons of time and effort getting everything ready yourself, put on some festive music and get the kids in on the action. “It doesn’t always look how I’d like it to look, but it’s fun and it adds an extra activity for us to do together,” Carone says.
4. Plan low-impact activities.
If you need to rest or don’t feel like leaving your bed, let alone the house, you can bring the holidays to you. Brandi Clevinger, the blogger behind Being Fibro Mom, likes to have everyone pile into bed with her to watch holiday movies, read stories, or sing songs together. She also loves coloring with her kids; it’s fun for them and can be meditative for her.
5. Start new traditions.
So much of the anticipation of the holidays falls around cherished activities you do every year. Introduce new traditions that work with your health, not against it. For instance, Clevinger and her daughter make the same special pie together every year. While Clevinger may not always be able to eat some afterward, they still always put on their matching aprons and get some holiday music going.
6. Celebrate the small things.
When you’re navigating the holidays with a chronic illness, it’s easy to focus on the things you can’t do. Instead make a big deal of the things you can do, Clevinger says. “You have to ramp up those little tiny moments you have with your kids,” she says. Even if it’s just turning paper plates into decorated wreaths, make a big deal about picking out the plates and decorations and doing it together as a family.
7. Cut yourself some slack.
At the end of the holidays, know that you’ve done your best, even if things didn’t go perfectly. “Kids won’t remember all the cookies they eat or the presents they receive,” Clevinger says. “They’ll remember what they do with you, not what you can’t do.”
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