How to de-stress your family’s pandemic holidays

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Nov 25, 2020

Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik

Holidays and stress. The two seem to go hand in hand.

In past years, that stress has flowed from the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, parties, and church events.

Given the pandemic, many of us have less busy holidays as parties and events are cancelled or adapted to become digital gatherings. But this year we might find ourselves facing a bigger, less predictable source of holiday stress: disappointment.

Disappointment that holiday travel and visits from friends and relatives will be put on pause.

Disappointment that our favorite annual family and church traditions will have to be adapted, or cancelled altogether.

Disappointment that after a 2020 with so much disruption, our holidays will also be upended.

But just because many of the things we look forward to during the holidays will look different this year doesn’t mean that we can’t still nurture our connection with loved ones and create meaningful moments. Here are four suggestions to help our families de-stress and keep disappointment at bay this pandemic holiday season.

1. Grieve and be grateful.

My family accepted the advice of my good friend and FYI colleague, Brad Griffin, to name both loss and gratitude. Early in the pandemic, we kept two lists at our kitchen table and added new things we missed and appreciated every day.

It’s time for the Powell family to return to those lists and add some new items. Typically during December, we name a “gift we’re grateful for” at dinner. Because I want our family to be a safe place to acknowledge both highs and lows, I want us to also name when we’re grieving or missing time with friends, year-end church events, and gatherings with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

2. Serve the isolated.

One of my favorite quotes is from my good friend Reggie Joiner from Orange: “A kid may get over what I teach them but they will never get over what God does through them.”

Many of our families’ service traditions won’t be able to happen this year. It’s trickier to give out soup or sandwiches to those who are homeless, or purchase and deliver gifts to families in need.

But the pandemic highlights a group we can serve without leaving our homes: the isolated. I recommend that your family talk together about people you know who are isolated and brainstorm what you could do to show them you care. From a live Zoom call or a funny video you record, to daily texts or an email of what you appreciate most about them, look for ways you can let those who are likely to feel isolated—especially those living alone—know they matter.

3. Connect digitally and intentionally with relatives

Many of us don’t know if, or how, we’re going to see relatives we “always” see during the holidays. Even if we can’t sit around the dining room table this year, we can connect online. And just because your family is Zooming with close friends and relatives doesn’t mean you can’t grow with them.

One of the themes in all of FYI’s research is the importance of intergenerational relationships. Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran in building a team of adult relationships for your child or step-child, you can use online connections during the holidays to turn the dial on your child’s intergenerational team.

Ask your kids ahead of time to think about questions they’d like to ask an aunt or grandparent they miss. If you get stuck, here are some possibilities:

  • What they love most about the holidays
  • Their biggest fears when they were younger
  • Their biggest career and academic dreams, and how their real life has (or has not) matched those dreams
  • Their biggest career accomplishments and disappointments
  • Seasons in their life when they felt close to God
  • Seasons in their life when they wondered if God existed
  • How their high school and college friends shaped them
  • How they might have shaped their high school and college friends
  • If they are older, what they love the most about this season, and what they would change

Let that aunt or grandparent know ahead of time that you’re going to ask them some deeper questions. Maybe even send them some of the questions ahead of time so they can prepare a bit.

4. Do what your family does best

It’s easy to fall into comparison traps over the holidays. Many of us will inevitably compare our holidays with others’ and feel like our decorations aren’t as good, our memories aren’t as vivid, and our traditions at home aren’t as special.

We feel like we can’t keep up with other families.

The good news is we don’t have to.

My family isn’t particularly musical. I used to say that I don’t play any musical instruments but I do play Spotify. When I hear about other families literally gathering around the piano and singing Christmas carols, it’s easy for me to feel like I’m failing as a parent.

It’s time for me to accept that the Powells will never be a gather-around-the-piano family. It’s just not going to happen (unless our kids end up marrying some really talented musicians).

We’re a hiking family. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, we take a hike. Even when it was raining last Thanksgiving, our kids insisted we grab umbrellas and rain gear and take our traditional ramble. Hiking is part of what it means to be a Powell at the holidays.

This may be the perfect year for us to figure out what our family does best and stop worrying about the rest.

Tweet this: 2020 may be the perfect year for families to figure out what they do best and stop worrying about all the rest. Here are four ways to de-stress and keep disappointment at bay this pandemic holiday season.

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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