Christmas can be a uniquely challenging time of year for parents and teens.
It only comes around once, so the occasion is loaded with cultural meaning, heightened expectations and emotional turbulence.
Parents and their teens are often thrust together into socially challenging situations, like making sure ‘his’ family are happy and ‘her’ family feel included…and the fact that everyone is home together at the same time (“you’re hogging the Wifi!”).
If your family is blended, has gone through divorce and custody arrangements, or feels anything but “normal” then the stakes are even higher.
That’s before we consider the more typical pressures of gift-buying on the household budget, scrambling to meet end-of-year project deadlines, and managing your own self-care and sanity.
Oh, who can forget that Covid put a dampener on Christmas last year too?
All of this can result in a melting pot of emotions and conflicting desires that eventually boil over into raised voices, slammed doors and a ruined celebration that can last long after the 25th.
That’s definitely not what they picture on those shiny Christmas cards…
The good news is that with a little forethought and planning, you can include your teens in the process of reshaping Christmas in 2021, avoid potential conflict, and strengthen your relationship.
We think preventing conflict beats reacting to it (when emotions can be high), so the following suggestions may work wonders for keeping the peace in your family.
Do A Christmas Experience “Stocktake”
By the time your kids reach their teens, some of the gloss and hype around Christmas has likely already started to fade.
That’s why it’s a great time to reflect together on what made it special for each family member in the past so you can incorporate those elements into the future.
Some open-ended questions you might like to ask your teens include:
- What has been your favourite Christmas and why?
- What has been your least favourite Christmas and why?
By validating the diverse range of feelings and perspectives your teens have, you’ll get an insight into what’s important for them and things that may have caused friction and conflict in the past.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
For many families, one of the most challenging aspects of Christmas is the sense of being hurried and socially overcommitted.
Catch-ups are often scheduled from morning until late at night, with the feeling of always needing to rush off to your next commitment and never being able to settle into the day.
If that resonates with you, then we suggest you don’t “put all your eggs in one basket” and spread catch-ups with family and friends over the weeks leading up to Christmas.
This helps make Christmas feel like an extended celebration period rather than one big day, and gives your family lots of separate events to look forward to.
When the Big Day finally rolls around, you’ll get to spend more quality time with your teens and relieve the pressure of trying to do everything in a day (including a whole load of cooking and cleaning!).
Christmas Is What You Make It
The religious traditions and cultural norms that surround Christmas seem to have become more diverse and commercialized in recent years…but don’t let that stop your family from creating your own meaning and significance for this special day.
Creating new rituals and traditions is a powerful way to anchor families to a specific time, place and emotion.
These new rituals and traditions don’t need to be complex or extravagant either, and they can help shed previous negative experiences while also establishing a new way to bond with your teens.
By this stage you’ve done your Christmas experience “stocktake ” and rearranged your family social calendar; now it’s time for everyone in the family to contribute their ideas for a meaningful day of fun and celebration.
The important thing is that your teens feel seen and heard, so ask them what they’d each like to do ahead of time and plan to make it happen as a family.
It could be an outing to the beach or local swimming hole, creating a family TikTok routine, pulling out the board games, or dressing up your pooch like an elf.
By giving your teens a “say” in the decisions around how Christmas is spent, it will become a day they eagerly anticipate rather than feeling like a passenger or bystander.
Your Presence Is The Best Present (Seriously)
The build-up to Christmas can be an especially stressful time for parents, with time pressures from work and the financial pressures of gift-buying adding to your (already high) mental load.
These stresses can often boil over into heated or tense conversations with your teens over very minor issues, making them feel like they can’t get things right or you’re constantly angry with them.
That’s why taking care of your own emotional and physical needs is a great way to defuse any Christmas-day tensions ahead of time.
Working yourself to the bone all the way up to Christmas day is guaranteed to see you cross the “finish line” in an exhausted, irritable state…which is certain to spark conflict with your teens or (worse) their silent disappointment.
So take a moment to pause and remember that the best gift you can give your family is your full attention, presence, and energy on Christmas day.
One powerful way to channel this energy (before the alcohol starts to flow!) is to create a dedicated time and space for an “honouring” of your teens.
By sharing openly and positively about the gifts, talents and personality traits that make your teens special to you, you can give them a Christmas gift that no amount of money will ever buy.
Your teens love you far more than they will ever let on, and hearing your approval and pride in them will forge a deeper, respectful relationship between you.
And that brings us to our final tip…
Less Can Actually Be More
Christmas is one of those unique times of the year where it feels like all the ordinary spending rules go out the window.
It can create a vicious and stressful cycle where you’re working harder to pay for loads of ‘stocking stuffers’ for extended family and friends, with the end result being an exhausted parent (you!) and gifts that don’t quite hit the mark.
One great idea that we’ve tried and love is a Secret Santa/Kris Kringle gift exchange. You can use any number of apps or online programs to help organize it, and it results in a meaningful gift exchange with the element of surprise.
Plus, everyone gets what they really want!
This can work either with your teens or with other Christmas get-togethers, and provides clarity and purpose around exchanging gifts.
Buying one bigger gift that is thoughtfully chosen takes away some of the financial pressure from needing to buy gifts for everyone and will also spare you those endless hours of browsing online or pushing a trolley around your local Shopping Centre.
It’s also important to remember that physical gifts will eventually be forgotten and discarded but the memories you make together with your teens will last a lifetime.
We trust these ideas spark some new ideas and excitement for you and your teens this Christmas and help avoid potential sources of parent-teen conflict!