As the executive director of the Family Resource Center of South Florida, a child welfare agency in Miami, I report to you sadly that the incidence of child abuse and neglect goes up sharply during the holiday season. The disparity between the joyous hype, on one hand, and the stress of loneliness and/or shaky finances and/or interpersonal conflict, on the other hand, can set us up to feel despair. Moreover, the excessive usage of alcohol and other intoxicants is often the springboard to domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. During this season, greater numbers of sexually abused, physically battered and emotionally traumatized children come to the attention of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) because their parents were out of control, physically absent or emotionally indifferent.
The holiday season is upon us, with abundant messages from advertisers, radio and television that we should be full of joy, indulge in all sorts of food and drink, and consume to our heart's content, or our credit card's limit. Some of us may live this script, bringing in the New Year with a moderation of food and spirits, and with non-conflictual loved ones. But, for most of us the holiday season is a mixed bag. Contrary to all the advertising hype, I caution you to keep your expectations reasonable and your consumptive habits moderate.
"Eustress" is the upset or the need to adapt caused by a positive event, and "distress" is the upset or adaptation challenge caused by a negative event. In general, we adapt more easily to eustress, but the process still requires active coping. For example, if your in-laws, whom you actually do care for, are staying with you, then you and your spouse may have to put in place some active coping to deal with the stress. Get your exercise and your sleep, and spend time with your spouse "debriefing" the joliday interactions. There is no shame in admitting that you and your spouse need a break, even from house guests whom you love. Most important, your children still need you to be attentive to their needs for the basics of nurturing and stability.
During this season, keep the routines that ground your children, your partner and yourself. That is, keep meal times and bed times as close to normal as you can. Keep in mind the non-commercialized virtues of the season. For example, focus on the joys of being with your family members (quirks and all), the gratitude over that which is abundant in your lives, and spiritual sense that with each New Year there is the renewal of life and hope. You are potent role models for your children. Show them that you can deal with life's blessings and challenges with humility, determination, optimism and loving limits. When you show these qualities to your children through your daily living, you are teaching them the precious qualities of life resilience, appreciativeness and connectedness to loved ones. Modeling those qualities may be your best and most enduring gifts to your children.
If you are having trouble caring for yourself or your family this season, then reach out to a trusted loved one, friend or professional. Show your children that there is strength, not weakness, in seeking help and support. That way, you and your family can start the New Year with renewed optimism, rather than early regrets and apologies.