The best holiday gift of all – time to stress less

By Annie Fox

Family in snow

The Christmas cactus on my front deck has always been a perfectionist over-achiever. Sound like anyone you know? Holiday stress is an actual thing, especially if you’re like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect gift, the perfect turkey-brining recipe and the perfectly polished bathroom mirror.

But, hold on. The dictionary defines “holiday” as: a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment. Clearly, Noah Webster never hunted for a non-existent parking space, cringed at his ATM balance or frantically vacuumed dog hair off the couch before guests arrived. Reality aside, holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones — well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family. Who knew?

Years back, my family celebrated an unofficial holiday when a massive windstorm roared through our neck of the woods, knocking out power for five days. No school, no computers, no work. We bundled in blankets around the fireplace, read aloud from a book of obscure folktales, pausing at crucial plot points and taking turns guessing what happens next. We acted out alternative endings, had a Crazy Eights marathon by candlelight, roasted marshmallows and ate outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. What? You wanted us to let all that Chunky Monkey melt? What kind of parent do you think I am?

During those cold, dark days, we depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment and connection. When the power finally returned, we all rejoiced… and felt a little sad.

21st Century kids need family time to de-stress. (Yes, kids get stressed!) When I ask them “What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?” these are typical responses:

  • “A kinda mind overload.”
  • “Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
  • “Overwhelmed.”
  • “Overworked.”
  • “…a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It’s too much pressure!!!!”
  • “A tax on your soul.”

Heartbreaking, huh? And those were from 11-13 year olds!

Our kids live in a speedy, noisy, stressful world. We love them and it hurts us to see them freaked out and wound up, but what can we do? We can’t stop the world. But we can slow down our own little corner and bring the family in closer. I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Sounds nice, but my kids (tweens and teens) don’t want to hang out with me.” Probably not all the time. And be honest: You wouldn’t want to hang out with them all the time either! But they do want to spend time with you. Especially during the holidays and especially when you show how much you enjoy being with them.

If you just don’t see how you’re going to create regular family time during this holiday season and into the new year, sit down with your kids and talk about the regular daily pressures each of you deals with. Discuss how spending time as a family can actually help you all stress less. Unplug from digital media at least for part of each day and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax.

I know you’ve probably read a similar list of good ideas before, but how about actually trying some of these? You may get the same storm bonus our family got… the gift of time. That’s the first step in reclaiming the heart of your family during the holiday season and year round.

Annie Fox is an internationally respected parenting expert and family coach. Find her at or on Twitter @Annie-Fox.