Holidays can be crazy enough when you’re single. Add in-laws and kids of all ages, and you have the potential for madness! Following are tips from the HDYDI moms on making it through the big family gatherings with twins in tow.
Respect sleep needs
Whatever stage of daytime sleep your kids are in, do what you can to respect their normal routine. If you have newborns who will sleep in people’s arms, lucky you! Just pass them around until people’s arms get tired. I know last Christmas was difficult with my 4-month-olds, as they were still in the “sleep every few hours” stage, but past the “sleep in anyone’s arms” stage. But the time we violated the “sleep every few hours” rule went very poorly, so, lesson learned. If your older infants or toddlers have a good nap schedule going, stick to it to whatever degree possible. Bring a pack & play (or two) if they’re likely to sleep at someone else’s house. Or, consider doing the hour-long drive right at naptime. It won’t be perfect, but if you want your kids to do well with lots of new people or places, better that they be well-rested.
Also, be respectful of bedtime, especially in younger kids. Believe me, a 12-month-old is generally not going to appreciate the “special treat” of staying up well past bedtime. Instead, you’ll just have a meltdown on your hands. If you’ll be at someone else’s house and will stay there until bedtime, bring pajamas and change the kids before you get into the car. That way, if they fall asleep on the way home, it will be one less thing to do when transferring them into their beds.
Consider giving warnings ahead of time, both for the sake of the kids and for your photos-at-the-last-minute family members. Make it known that you are leaving in 30 minutes… 10… 5. If your kids are old enough to understand the warning, then even if they still don’t want to go, at least it isn’t a surprise. And though you may have family members who think you’re being a stick in the mud for leaving “so early,” you know full well what will happen if your overstimulated 18-month-olds stay up too late… it won’t be pretty. Give everyone warning, try to make sure photos are taken before it’s time to put coats on, and then pack it up and go when you need to.
Bring comfort items or lovies, but maybe consider bringing the second-string stuffed animal. God forbid you leave the absolute favorite one at Aunt Judy’s house! For older infants and toddlers, have a good stash of reliable favorite foods in case of a table full of unsuitable items or picky preschoolers. There’s a time and a place for enforcing the “I am not a short-order cook” rule, but you’ll have to decide relative to the age and tantrum-prone-ness of your child whether it’s a battle worth fighting at your sister-in-law’s house. My vote is to make sure you at least have some string cheese and goldfish in your purse, just in case. If your kids are old enough for most table foods, I’m not saying you should bring a separate meal. Just have a little bit of backup.
If having your toddler’s favorite sippy cups or a strap-on booster seat will make things easier when you’re there, then by all means throw them in the back of the car. As always, don’t forget standard diaper necessities and maybe an extra shirt. (Though, hey, a little kid running around in a diaper is always considered adorable at my house.) Really, though, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you. If your supplies require more trips out to the car than number of kids, you may have packed too much. It’ll be OK if you don’t bring all of the favorite toys. A wooden spoon and metal bowl can go a long way.
If you are going to the home of a close friend or relative, especially one who has an affinity for small ceramic figurines, it might be worth a call ahead to see if some of the low-lying breakables can be put away. But this works for some hosts better than others, and as both parent and guest, the responsibility is yours to keep your kids from demolishing the joint. Potentially a pain in your ass? Yes, but it’s not your house. So, sometimes we have to suck it up. Parenting is fun, isn’t it?
Older toddlers and preschoolers may benefit from some preparation of their own. Especially for those who are wary of new places and new people, start talking it up in advance. [Obviously this advice is a little late for Thanksgiving ’08, but it’s a good time to start prepping for the December holidays, or tuck it away for some other future event.] LauraC makes the great suggestion of getting together pictures of everyone who will be there, and I know some parents even put together their own little photo book of what to expect, inclusive of pictures of the kinds of food that will be served. Introduce all of the new players, maybe let the kids talk on the phone or Skype with unfamiliar faces whenever possible. Frequent reminders of who the people are and what you’ll be doing can go a long way towards a smooth adjustment. Also consider books and stories about the holiday, again to help the kids know what to expect. Talk about what you say when you meet new people, or about the very special behavior you expect when we all sit at the big table together.
Most importantly, go with the flow. If you are relaxed, your kids are more likely to be relaxed (that goes for any tension you may have with your in-laws – beware, the kids can and will pick up on it). Decide ahead of time which rules are most important for you to keep consistent (behavior, bedtime, etc.), and then consider being a little more loose on the rest. If you never turn on the TV at home, an afternoon of sitting with Uncle Jim and watching the football game is unlikely to do any lasting harm. If you avoid sweets, having a little dessert is unlikely to be the end of you. I’m not saying you should let the kids gorge themselves on cookies all day, but pick things that you’re willing to let slide a little bit and just let go. And have realistic expectations about how long your child can sit at a table, relative to his or her age and attention span. I know you’d like to sit and chat with Cousin Sal, but it may be better for everyone if you and little Joey get up from the table.
If things crash and burn…
… and sometimes they do, take a deep breath. You’re still the mom, and you’re still in charge. If your preschooler starts melting down and hitting his brother, and needs a time out, find a way to do it. If they’re getting overwhelmed, find a quiet room to escape for a little while, or go for a walk around the block. Fresh air and a change of scenery can work magic. Remember, they’re just kids, and they aren’t trying to ruin your holiday. They’re probably in an unfamiliar situation, overstimulated and maybe overtired.
And sometimes, sometimes you just need to cut your losses and pack it up. It happens to the best of us. I’m sorry if that means you miss the pie, maybe you can get a slice to go. But if you can see that you’ve reached the point of no return, say your goodbyes and try again next time.
Readers… any good holiday tricks that have worked for you in the past? Or mistakes you’d rather not repeat? Let’s hear ’em!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!