Missed last week’s discussion on family holiday dilemmas? Below is an edited excerpt from the chat. Meghan Leahy, a D.C.-based parent coach, and Family Almanac columnist Marguerite Kelly joined On Parenting blogger Janice D’Arcy for the Q&A. Read the entire transcript here.
My son is 5, and we’re Jewish. He’s starting to ask why Santa doesn’t come to our house and why we don’t have a tree. I try to explain that we celebrate different holidays, but that’s just not cutting it. Any tips?
Meghan Leahy: While you may feel challenged by the Santa machine and how to explain it, this is an amazing opportunity to experience the Jewish faith and all its beautiful traditions. I say “experience,” because 5 year olds are going to tune out talking pretty quickly. So find ways that your son can actively do things. Go to your local library (with [your] son) and find some resources! For instance, preparation of the traditional foods like latkes and Sufganiyot can be fun with a 5-year-old, as well as the games and songs associated with the dreidel. Embracing your own traditions with enthusiasm and curiosity is a way to help children feel special and allay the “where is my tree” worries.
I feel like the holidays are a great time to remind kids about those less fortunate than ourselves. Any tips on truly impactful activities -- volunteering, donating, etc. -- for kids?
Janice D’Arcy: Volunteer Match is a great resource. On their Web site you can enter your address and the ages/interests of your kids, and it will find local groups that need help.
It’s hard to know what to say about estranged and/or alienated kids, teens and young adults. Their absence is noted and very profound in the nuclear family, but difficult to explain or discuss with extended family and friends over the holidays. It always hurts. This month, it sears.
Marguerite Kelly: Be truthful. Tell the extended that those kids just needed to take a break from the family for a while but it makes you sad to talk about it, so you’d rather talk about something else. And then immediately ask about them and their children which they will answer because people would really rather talk about themselves than about you anyway.
My family is gathering for what will likely be my dad’s last Christmas. (He is not elderly; he is ill.) We are all very close, and it’s going to be tough emotionally. There is only one grandchild (7 years old) and I don’t want it to be a depressing holiday for her, especially since she will be the only kid there. Any advice on how to keep everyone’s spirits up when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry?
Kelly: Could you ask her to interview her grandfather with a tape recorder and help her prepare questions she can ask him? Can you ask her to sing for him or recite a poem that she has memorized? Can you watch a favorite old movie together or ask him about his favorite family memories? Death is a part of life. A child really shouldn’t be shielded from the leaving of it because it can make the death itself more heartbreaking for her and make her wish that she had used the time she had with him in a more meaningful way.
How do you keep a foster child’s spirit up especially when their parents break their promises to see him (he’s 17), and how do you keep the holiday inclusive with the other kids in the house?
Leahy: Thank you for the work you do in being a presence in the life of a foster child.
Allow this young man to have his feelings, and don’t try to sugar coat it. Just sit with him, go for walks, go get some food. Just being a positive and listening presence is enough. Really.
And then you give the responsibilities and the joys that come with being in your home for the holidays! Don’t over-think it!