Finding balance over Christmas
Christmas is a time for being with family but it’s also a time of year where our schedules are populated with social obligations. How can we balance both without neglecting our primary role as a dad?
Christmas is arguably the most social time of year. With its secularisation, it’s a celebration that both Christians and non-Christians can enjoy in equal measure. Consequently, there’s often a palpable atmosphere of cheer and goodwill during the festive period.
Much of that is driven by Christmas being the only time of year when most people are off from work at the same time. It’s therefore the perfect time to catch up with friends and family, regardless of it being in the context of any Christmas celebrations.
As a teacher, this definitely resonates with me. The demands of my job commence long before the school gates open and long after dismissal of the students, not to mention at weekends. That means there’s limited time to socialise during term time. And for anyone with a similarly demanding job, that will also be the case. Given the extent that work can erode time spent with my son, it also means I can be left feeling like an absent dad until the school holidays.
So when Christmas comes around, it’s the perfect time of year to make good on both fronts. In the weeks leading to Christmas, I look forward to family time that isn’t punctuated by the pressures of day-to-day life and work. However, during that period, my schedule also begins to become populated with social commitments as we approach Christmas day.
The balance between personal, professional and parent is one that many parents are familiar with. But at Christmas, that becomes even more acute. Being a dad is my priority and spending time with my family is both welcome and necessary. But respite from our professional lives is just as important as as respite from being a parent.
It’s important to strike a balance between both during Christmas. Being a parent shouldn’t completely eradicate our identities that once existed before we were referred to as Daddy or Mummy. Social commitments therefore shouldn’t be something we consistently sacrifice either. It’s about having the balance and compromise between our seasonal social obligations and our full time duties as a parent. After all, Christmas is typically a big deal for children and optimal family time that should never be taken for granted.
As parents, we’re often guilty of neglecting our wellbeing with parenting being enough of a distraction from our mental self-care. I’m certainly guilty of it and rightly or wrongly, unapologetically so. Although we have to consider how much we might be compromising our effectiveness in parenting if we don’t provide ourselves with the space to keep our mental health in check.
Social plans might provide just that; a chance to unwind with adult company and without the pressures of parenting for a few hours. When it’s framed that way, social plans at Christmas might be more important than we initially acknowledge as parents.
It’s important to remember that for most of us, Christmas provides a break and we shouldn’t deny ourselves of that. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to balance social commitments with being present as a parent during the festive period. It isn’t always easy but there are some approaches that can help to facilitate it.
Involve your children in your social commitments where possible
Far from suggesting you take your children out on the razzle dazzle, social commitments don’t have to always be without children. Many of my peers have children or indeed want to spend time with my son (he’s typically a bigger draw than me). It won’t always be appropriate but organising meet-ups in family friendly venues and at family friendly times can be a solution to feeling like your time is spread too thinly over Christmas.
Everyone wins as you still get to spend time with your child and they get to spend time with your friends and family. There will of course be times that you want a break from being Daddy but time with your child in a family friendly setting, and with friends and family around giving them attention, can provide a somewhat of a break in itself.
Involving your children in social commitments can be a solution to time management over Christmas. It ensures you don’t feel guilty for not spending time with your children but also not feeling like you’re missing out on meeting friends and family at a time of year that’s most likely to be mutually convenient with everyone. It won’t always be ideal, and it’s important not to foist your children onto others who may want a child-free meet-up. But it can be a way to balance your time.
Consider your wellbeing within the context of your Christmas schedule
Sometimes parents just need a break in an environment that provides adult conversation and is free of nursery rhymes. Having a night out or meeting friends for lunch might be needed rather than just desired.
If that’s you, it’s important to take that time. Periodically giving yourself some respite from parenting is crucial to your mental health and your effectiveness as a parent. And the Christmas break can provide an opportunity for just that.
Conversely, if you’ve spent most of the Christmas period as somewhat of an absent dad due to social commitments, don’t resist saying no to further social plans. It’s also important to consider your partner in that context as childcare will typically be a consideration in making social plans. Is this your third consecutive day or night out where you’ve been absent as a parent and partner? That’s a cue to have some family time and say no to further social obligations. If your partner has been left home while you’ve been out, that’s also a signal that you need to afford your partner the same opportunity to have some respite from parenting and give them a day or night off.
Every parent knows that the best laid plans can easily be thwarted by your children. And when making social plans, that’s no different. Childcare might fall through or they might resist falling asleep for an hour while you’d planned to be getting ready for a night of Christmas drinks. Sometimes as a parent, you just have to accept that your plans aren’t going to go as you had intended. Don’t feel guilty for being late or a no-show on account of parenting and don’t assume any guilt for endeavouring to make social plans as a parent either.
You never stop being a parent but that doesn’t mean you should deny yourself social plans over the Christmas period. Providing you aren’t neglecting your role as a dad at the expense of it, festive cheer is for parents too and many parents could do with remembering that.