A handful of Christmas songs feature grandma, grandpa, or both. That's because grandparents are such a cherished part of our holiday celebrations, typically serving as the force that pulls the family together.
But if grandparents aren't as active and capable as they used to be, balancing holiday preparations with caregiving duties can be challenging for you. It's important to understand how the holidays affect you.
Over the river and through the woods
During the holiday season, you must recognize potential challenges and prioritize your well-being. Seeking support from friends and family, delegating tasks, setting realistic expectations, and practicing self-care can help you effectively navigate the holidays and reduce any negative impacts on you.
The holidays often bring additional responsibilities such as shopping, decorating, and meal preparation. You may find it challenging to manage these tasks on top of your usual caregiving duties. Shopping online, enlisting the children to decorate*, and asking family members to pitch in on meal prep can help.
*Adults underestimate the free and funloving spirit of the holidays that children bring through decorating. While trimmed and tailored and precise decorations are beautiful, so are mismatched and messy ones. Give the kids the boxes and a couple of ground rules and let them get to it! The bonus is they're occupied while you accomplish other things, as well as have something they're proud of and happy to show off.
They can also set the table, shovel drives and walks, and be in charge of coats and gifts as guests arrive.
You may experience heightened emotional stress during the holidays, particularly if you are caring for someone with health issues. The contrast between festive celebrations and the reality of your caregiving responsibilities can be emotionally taxing. Be mindful of being present in the moment and separating care from celebration.
When it's time to give care, be efficient and thorough and plan ahead so that when it's time to celebrate you can enjoy it knowing your loved one is set. Furthermore, ask another family member or two to attend to your loved one's needs during gatherings so that you have time to yourself for other tasks and enjoyment.
You may face increased financial pressure during the holidays due to the costs associated with gifts, decorations, and holiday meals. This strain can be exacerbated if you have to reduce work hours or leave employment to provide care. Try to make a little go a long way by prioritizing your funds.
Most older adults don't need a lot of gifts, or expensive ones, and their top priority is usually comfort and warmth. Consider blankets, pillows, sweaters or sweatshirts, pajamas, fuzzy socks or slippers (make sure they have soles that grip!), spill-proof mugs, compiling photo albums or scrapbooks, freezing meals, and books or audible books.
Guilt and burnout
You may experience guilt if you're not able to provide the level of holiday cheer or engagement you think your loved one desires and deserves, and the added stress of the season can contribute to burnout.
To avoid guilt and burnout, foremost, don't assume what your loved one wants for the holidays because it's likely that you expect more from yourself than they do. Talk with your loved one about what they want for the holidays because you may be surprised to learn it isn't a grand plan. Working together can put both your minds and bodies at ease.
Likewise, limit your anxiety about the future. Your loved one's health may be deteriorating, and the holidays can bring a sense of reflection and uncertainty about what the coming year may hold. This is all the more reason to open up to your loved one about these thoughts and feelings, and allow them to listen and respond, which can temporarily relieve your worry and allow you both to enjoy the here and now.
Family dynamics can become more complicated during the holidays, with expectations and tensions rising. You may have to navigate family conflicts or manage the emotional needs of both your loved one and other family members. While verbalizing to them that you cannot play referee is easier said than done, it still needs to be done. Be kind, but upfront.
Your priorities are your care and the care of your loved one, not managing their behaviors; therefore, let them know that you expect them to leave their issues at home and not hash them out during festivities.
That said, it's important to recognize that your loved one is part of the family dynamics, as well, even if they're not in open conflict with other family members. They may be silently suffering grief and loss. They may be uncomfortable with the changes in their routine. They may even feel undue pressure to participate when they would rather not. Making the time to talk to them, to inquire about these things and seek resolution, can alleviate a lot of unnecessary work and stress as holiday plans progress.
Finding respite or time away becomes more challenging during the holidays as many support services or facilities may have altered schedules. You may have limited opportunities to recharge and take a break. Prepare by keeping things as low-key as possible this time of year and don't hesitate to enlist help when and where you need it from friends, family members, neighbors, church groups, and other volunteer organizations.
Also try to engage in activities that provide you both a break, such as driving around looking at outdoor lights and decorations, planning a family Christmas movie night, sitting around chatting while making paper or popcorn chains, hosting a group gift-wrapping gathering or hot cocoa contest (and encouraging them to bring snacks!).
Lastly, don't try to complete major tasks during the holiday season. It is not the time to perform deep cleaning and purging of the household, renovate anything, or even cram in last-minute doctor's appointments and procedures. If you notice that this is, in fact, what you're doing this year, take some time to appreciate how stressful this is and formulate a better plan for next year!
The stress associated with caregiving and the holidays can impact your physical and mental health. You may neglect your well-being, leading to fatigue, sleep disturbances, poor nutrition, and lowered immune function. By resolving the issues and concerns listed to this point, using some of the methods suggested, you can support your own physical and mental health and preserve your well-being, as well as your love of the season.