Christmas Tips for Parents of Kids with Disabilities
I love Christmas. I have this fun tradition where, around September, I start sneaking tiny Christmas decorations out and hiding them around this house since my husband is of the belief they should be banned until Thanksgiving. I love rocking out to Christmas tunes and I obsess over giving gifts that show my people how much they mean to me. I’ve also learned that being parents of kids with disabilities can complicate parts of the holidays.
Today I’m sharing my top five tips for managing the holidays during a complicated year in a house full of wonderfully atypical people.
Buy gifts for the kid in front of you
The toy aisle can be a complicated place for some of us. You might find yourself staring at items listing age range much lower than your child or that a neurotypical kid wouldn’t be interested in at all. Finding sizes or rare items can be impossible for parents of kids with disabilities sometimes but the really hard part is when it hits you just how different your child is from their peers. You’re allowed to take a minute for that sadness but don’t buy from it. Resist the urge to purchase gifts that others their age would want and let yourself get the presents their heart desires.
Prioritize holiday events
The first Thanksgiving I spent with my husband, we ate dinner seven times. That Christmas was just as full. In the many years since then, I’ve forced myself to get picky about what we’re going to do and parenting my crew has made that even more important. My kids just can’t handle the overstimulation of a million different events or some of the traditions I treasured when I was little. I’ve learned to prioritize the events I care most about, then say no or maybe to the rest. If we have enough energy and cooperation, we do some of the maybes and it’s a great treat. This way, I don’t have to be constantly disappointed when things don’t happen or frustrated while dragging a kid mid melt down through a light show while yelling at them to smile.
This year, you might find it tempting to do every drive through event, Christmas special or socially distance get together to make up for having missed everyone so much during quarantine. While you’re staying safe, remember kids who’ve been isolated may get overwhelmed even quicker. Decide what makes sense for your family and enjoy the parts of the season that mean the most.
Slow it down
There is no end to the wonderful Pinterest crafts, holiday specials or fun traditions you can do with your family. Sometimes though, the best thing we can do is slow down and let the season work it’s magic. Let your kids do the crafts that they are developmentally able to do in the time it takes them to do it. Let them take all the time they want to fixate on that one special toy or re-watch their favorite scene in the Trolls Holiday special one hundred times. 2020 is the year to get quiet and witness the delight.
Embrace your own personal chaos
I’ll admit, I have zero idea what social media holidays are going to look like this year. I do expect that we’ll see the usual clean houses with perfect trees and smiling families baking cookies that don’t end up burnt. If your house is messy and full of sugar jacked kids who are tired of being stuck at home and flailing in their attempts to impress Santa, join the club. Take the pressure off yourself to make everything Instagram worthy and just embrace the chaos. Give the whole family, especially yourself, permission to be imperfect. Set the tone for the holiday with a discussion about how you will all make repairs after meltdowns and missteps. Then, embrace the chaos that is your actual, real life family with all their wonderful quirks, challenges and strengths.
Grieve if you need, then give yourself permission to get in the spirit
Holidays are hard for lots of people on normal years and 2020 has definitely not been a normal year. It’s ok if your sad when your traditions change or you miss out on visits to your people. It’s also ok if you struggle with managing the kids at home, worry about buying presents on a skinny budget, or feel like you get the wind knocked out of you when your child is the only one who comes home from school without a gift. Let yourself feel all of it. Then, let yourself feel the good stuff too. Neither one cancels out the other. Having a blast with your family doesn’t minimize all the hard things this year has brought us and mourning the losses doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the 4:00AM wake up call on Christmas morning from kids who just can’t wait one second longer. You’re allowed to feel both.
As parents of kids with disabilities or special needs, we’re used to our lives not looking like everyone else’s but that still stings at times. I see you and I believe that what you are feeling is valid. There’s room for all the struggle and all the job here. Whatever you’re celebrating and however you choose to do it, I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. Remember to give everyone oodles of grace and make the season magical for every person in your family, including you.
Le is a mama birth and adoption to kids with superpowers and special needs. She’s also an experienced therapist and the founder of 1000 Hills Counseling & Consulting. She works primarily with couples and people on difficult parenting journeys. You can learn more about her HERE.
Just FYI: this is a blog, not a therapy session. Please don’t take it as medical or mental health advice. If you’re in Texas and interested in therapy, I would love to chat. You can schedule a free consultation HERE.