There’s nothing like the holidays to highlight not only our children’s manners but also our family values.
Our values include teaching right from wrong but also all the traditions, rituals and beliefs that matter to us and which we want to instill in our children. So it encompasses moral stances such as respect and honesty, religious choices such as whether part of the holiday celebration includes a trip to church, and also lifestyle choices such as how we entertain, how we handle gift giving and little Christmas rituals such as decorating the house and tree or going out to see the lights. If your children are in school, odds are they are meeting kids with all sorts of different ideas about the holidays. Encourage them to talk to their friends and learn about their practices. Then help them to figure out your family values and traditions.
In our busy lives we don’t often really think about this, we just work hard to get through each day. But the holidays cause us to suddenly see our values in a clear light.
Teaching family values to our children is not something we can accomplish with lectures, flash cards or workbooks. It is demonstrated every day by the choices we make. Our children are watching and learning.
During the holidays we are more aware of what matters to us. But it often sneaks up on us. Maybe our children come home with stories about the food that is being served at a friend’s house and wonder why you are aren’t doing the same. Or the in-laws come to stay and are adamant that gifts are opened Christmas Eve whereas you prefer to wait until the morning. What astonishes you is how much this matters.
Before you get caught up in confusion, sit down by yourself and imagine the holiday times that matter to you. Then have your spouse or partner do the same so that you can have the conversation and actually make choices about your activities consciously. This is also a good time to identify some traditions that you really resent and want to drop. As long as you say this out loud, including to the children, making some changes is fine. There is no point in carrying on a tradition that simply increases stress. For example, if you say you want to stop making the gingerbread house every year, the rest of the family may be relieved.
If there will be extended family members visiting you, talk to them ahead of time. What matters to them? Can you incorporate your wishes with theirs? What if you allowed the kids to open the gift from their grandparents on Christmas Eve and saved the rest for the morning? Understand that there is something about Christmas traditions that really matter to many people.
Once you have a plan in place, talk to the kids. Let them learn by hearing from you. Tell them stories about previous years and why you make the choices you do. If they are old enough, involve them in making plans.
Don’t include any new activities unless you are prepared to carry on forever. Kids believe that any new holiday activity is now a regular ritual. If you decide that life has just been too hectic recently and you want a break so you are going to go to a restaurant on Christmas Eve, understand that the kids will expect this will carry on over subsequent years. So, if it’s a one-off thing, just tell the kids. You can say that this is special and only for this year.
The clearer you are on your expectations, the more smoothly the holiday will run.
Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.