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 5 Tips to Help Parents Better Manage the Holidays

“It’s not about presents but it is about your presence. Therein lies the spirit of the holiday season.”
~ Julieanne O’Connor

The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time for families to feel joy and gratitude. However, parents who are trying to support their child’s sobriety can feel anxious during the holidays. It is the time of year when a person new to recovery can feel the most vulnerable.

Even so, the holidays can still be a special time for your family. Some of the best holidays I’ve had are the ones that have been simple and non-traditional. There are many things you can do as a family to make your holiday season joyful this year, even if your child is struggling with substances or in early recovery.

Some parents, who have children still in the midst of their use, may feel concerned that their child will arrive late or high, be a no-show, and/or cause other chaos. Any of these situations can be painful and cause parents to feel anxious about the holidays.

For others, their son or daughter will be in a treatment program or sober living home over the holidays. While it may feel strange and a bit bittersweet, this is something you can celebrate. Your child has made the choice to seek recovery. They have taken those first steps. You will miss your child this year, but rest assured, knowing that they are on a better path.

Holiday Management Tips

Though your life might not feel “perfect,” you can still enjoy the holidays – even if your kids are struggling with substance use or in early recovery.

Here are 5 tips that can help you celebrate the holidays with less stress and more peace of mind:

  • Tip #1  Accept that this can be a difficult time of year
    Recognize that this will be a difficult time for you and your child. So much of our celebrations revolve around drinking. However, you can make some early preparations so that you feel confident that the holidays this year will go smoothly. When you accept that this can be a stressful time for you and your child, you will be more mentally prepared. Realize that your holidays may be different from other families’ and allow yourself to find unique ways to make the holidays joyful for your family.
  • Tip #2  Let go of your own expectations
    Don’t set yourself up with expectations for the holidays that may leave you feeling disappointed. Don’t let the pressure of the holidays get to you.
    According to Dr. Jeffrey Foote, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Really? …Be aware of the pressure and expectations of the holidays and do your best to manage your own expectations.  It’s a tough time of year under the best of circumstances, and having a loved one struggling with substances can make it that much harder. Letting go of the pressure to have it be “amazing” can actually go a long way to having the holidays go better than you might fear.”
  • Tip #3  Plan ahead
    Consider any potential problems ahead of time. Think about what would make you, your child, and other family members the most comfortable over the holiday season. If you normally celebrate with a large group of family members and there is usually a lot of drinking, this could be the year to make other plans. Make decisions about how you want to handle alcohol in your home over the holidays. Do you want your home to be an alcohol free zone? This can be helpful if you have a child who is recently sober. Whatever you decide, plan on having plenty of non-alcoholic beverages on hand to support your child’s recovery. Be clear with other family members and friends about any decisions that you make.
  • Tip #4  Keep it simple and light
    Sometimes the simple plans turn out to be the most fun and stress free. Keep it simple by surrounding yourself with family members and friends that you trust and feel comfortable with. Don’t over schedule yourself with so many gatherings that you feel tired and worn out. You will help yourself and your family stay stress free if you keep things simple.
    If your child is coming home this year or you are spending time together, take a break from discussing problems. You will have time later to discuss issues that concern you. Enjoy spending time together by creating new traditions. Cooking, eating, playing board games, wrapping presents, watching movies, volunteering, or just being together can be a fun and memorable experience. The more you can have a pleasant, positive time together, the better everyone will feel.
  • Tip #5  Monitor your own anxiety
    Take time for yourself. Help yourself to stay calm and take deep breaths if you find yourself getting stressed this holiday season. Do not replay past holidays that may have or may not have gone so well. Live in the present and let go of judgement.
    To help yourself feel better, make it a priority to keep up with your exercise schedule. Go for a walk, run, or go to the gym. Spend time with people who are supportive of your family’s situation. Take time to relax and enjoy the holidays by delegating some of the chores to others. Spend a few moments during this season to reflect on how far your child has come if they have made some positive changes this past year. Be grateful.
    Remember you are not alone. There are many other families who have children with substance use disorders or who are in early recovery. They are also making an effort to cope during the holiday season.

Take This Time to Reconnect

The holidays can still be memorable for your family. They can be the perfect time to reconnect in a positive way with all of your family members, no matter what their situation is.

Finally, the greatest gift your child can give you is their recovery. The greatest gift you can give your child is your love and support.


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