Resetting the Holiday Table: Holidays, COVID and Parenting
By Ariella Soffer, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Tis the season! Thanksgiving rolls into Chanukkah, which rolls into Christmas, which rolls into New Year’s. We are filled with love, friendship, gratitude, parties and laughter. Along with the joys that the holidays bring, it opens us up to a time of reflection. Holidays are a time when adults get propelled back into their families of origin. Along with the warm and loving feelings of convening after such a long reprieve of being separated during this pandemic, we are also thrust back into familiar family dynamics and patterns that can be equally as challenging.
I’m pretty hard on myself. If I don’t get something right, or feel like I have a situation under control, it can be a challenge for me to forgive myself or cut myself slack. When I see this in my own kids, it’s difficult for me to not to pounce on it, rather than empathize with what they are going through and help them care for themselves in a way that I am still learning to do as an adult.
A call I often get in my practice starts something like this, “It drives me up the wall when my five year old daughter doesn’t appreciate all of the things she got for the holidays and always wants more gifts.” Many of us have likely had this feeling before. I too, am guilty of saying to myself, “My kids are so spoiled.” If they even knew how much more they have than they need… you know how it goes. (I will refrain from writing the rest of this sentence publicly). If we take a step back, however, and think about this through a lens of intergenerational parenting, the layers get a whole lot more interesting. The parts of parenting that we find the most challenging are the very things that we haven’t resolved in ourselves.
The daughter in the above example isn’t necessarily spoiled; she’s just five and is actually expressing the disappointment of having opened a gift and can’t regulate her emotions well enough to modulate the excitement and disappointment going from opening gifts to having none left to open. When we don’t personalize what we parent, we can see the dimensions and the emotions; and then we can help our children in ways that perhaps we weren’t helped ourselves.
These moments require us to be present, mindful, forgiving and kind to ourselves before we can give the same to those around us. Before we can give our kids a different experience, we need to make ourselves more whole. This holiday season I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on the ‘things’ that you want to reset or re-parent.
Take time to pause when you notice yourself feeling agitated (or any feeling that seems out of proportion) and try to understand what’s behind it. Don’t take the situation at face value.
Set boundaries for yourself and your family that are comfortable and safe for you; whether this has to do with COVID precautions or emotional and physical distance. Think it through and communicate everything in advance.
Take note of tradition and value it, while also embracing change. Maybe you have lost loved ones this year to COVID or otherwise, maybe you have gained new family members. Whatever the case, change kicks up a range of feelings. All of those feelings are important to stay present.
Focus on gratitude and giving. Whether this means running in a charity race, or writing notes to your friends and family members to recognize their value. Getting and staying in touch with feeling grateful has been demonstrated time and time again to help people feel more whole.
Don’t forget to take time for yourself. As trite as this is, just do it. Take a bath, go for a run, play tennis with people whose company you enjoy. Whatever it is that gives you joy, do it. Even if it’s just a little bit.
Ariella Soffer, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who owns a group practice in Manhattan. Dr. Soffer’s practice specializes in parenting consultation, sports psychology, perinatal mental health in addition to general mental health concerns. Soffer & Associates Comprehensive Psychological Services website can be found here: DrAriellaSoffer.com