On Christmas morning in 2018, my husband and I pulled our two-year-old son out of bed. He was sleeping much later than usual and we just couldn’t wait any longer to show him the goodies from Santa. He opened his sleepy eyes, rubbed his face, and slowly descended the stairs to see what was waiting for him under the Christmas tree.
His reaction wasn’t what we expected. He just stared blankly while my husband and I excitedly showed him the toy cars from Santa and the presents for him to open. Instead of joyfully exploring his gifts, my son curled up in my lap and fell asleep.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed, but as I held him, I understood. In fact, I felt the same way — weary and exhausted from traveling in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day and overwhelmed by the piles of presents we had acquired from our families stacked up in the next room. After attending numerous family gatherings and spending our weekends on the road, Christmas morning was simply too much for our tired little boy to handle.
“After attending numerous family gatherings and spending our weekends on the road, Christmas morning was simply too much for our tired little boy to handle.”
As we all spent Christmas Day in various states of napping, my husband and I realized we needed to make some holiday tradition changes and that those changes probably weren’t going to go over so well with our families. But still, the decision was made: instead of the four—yes, four—different celebrations we were traveling to, we would only travel only once in December to celebrate Christmas with our parents and siblings. And that would only occur after we had already celebrated as a family ourselves.
This decision ruffled some feathers at first, but we stuck to our plans. And now during a pandemic, I’m even more grateful we’ve already established these boundaries. Here’s why we chose to attend fewer holiday gatherings and how it has benefitted our family.
We Reflected on What’s Really Important to Us as a Family
Our son was the first and only grandchild on both sides of the family until his sister and a cousin came along in 2019. His grandparents, aunts and uncles adore him and love nothing more than to spoil him, and for the most part, we allow it. However, after a couple years of my son getting showered with gifts at multiple holiday gatherings, I started to feel uneasy about it. What kind of message was this sending him?
Our family members delight in bringing our children joy, but the truth is, our kids (and we!) don’t really need all this stuff. Gifts are a kind gesture and I know our family’s generosity is coming from a place of love, but it’s important to me to be mindful of what my children learn from the actions of the adults around them. Scaling back on holiday festivities also means reducing the number of gifts my kids receive, and for me, this is a reflection of what I hope to teach them about material items. Sometimes less is more.
We Put Our Family’s Well-Being First
After four different family celebrations before Christmas Day in the years prior, our son was exhausted and clearly over this whole Christmas thing. And honestly, his dad and I were too. While we enjoyed seeing family and celebrating with loved ones, traveling every weekend for the month of December was draining on all of us.
Not only did my son end up sleeping most of Christmas Day, but the days before and after the holiday were also pretty difficult. The changes in routine, disruption of schedules, and overstimulation took a toll on his ability to sleep and regulate his emotions. He was actually diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) earlier this year, which helps to explain why loud noises in large groups bother him so much and why changes to his routines are so upsetting to him. But before we even had a diagnosis, my husband and I recognized the importance of supporting him by maintaining as much consistency and structure as we could.
Limiting the number of times we travel for the holidays and how many people we see during those trips helps meet our son’s unique needs. It’s impossible to please everyone—especially during the holidays—but as a mom, honoring my children’s needs is more important to me than how other people feel about it.
We Created Our Own Holiday Traditions
This year, now that we’ve added a daughter to our family, spending less hours on the road and more time together a family of four allows us to do things our own way. My husband and I both love the holiday traditions we grew up with, but also relish the opportunity to create our own with the two incredible humans we get to raise.
“My husband and I both love the holiday traditions we grew up with, but also relish the opportunity to create our own with the two incredible humans we get to raise.”
More time at home means letting the kids help wrap presents for others and baking sugar cookies together for Santa. It means watching holiday movies while drinking hot chocolate and snuggling together on the couch. These are the memories I want my children to have of the holidays and I want to be the one to create them.
We are blessed with loving families who are active in our kids’ lives, but we also want to foster our individual family unit. This means setting boundaries, even when it’s hard. Respecting other people’s wishes while honoring your own needs is always an imperfect and delicate balance, but for us, scaling back on holiday travel has made the season much more enjoyable.
And this year, maybe we won’t have to drag our kids out of bed on Christmas morning.