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Is it even possible to have a happy holiday as a caregiver? When you are a caregiver, so much of your life is devoted to the care of others. You can easily begin to feel like the joy and happiness others experience so easily (at least from where we sit) will never be yours. This is especially felt during the holidays. In fact, most of us would rather skip this obnoxious season all together.
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Why the holidays are so hard for caregivers
We’re already stressed.
Let’s face it. We’re already overwhelmed with our daily tasks of caregiving without the added stress the holidays naturally bring. Our minds are cluttered with tracking symptoms, remembering schedules, worry over daily decisions; how on earth are we to add holiday chaos into the mix?
The holidays bring up resentment
Unfortunately, caregiving brings a lot of reasons for resentment:
- Family that offers little to no assistance
- A lack of understanding from family and friends
- Those who are insensitive to your role and all it’s demands
- People with unrealistic expectations for this stage of life
- Anger toward your caree or just being required to be a caregiver
And as we all know, the holidays are notorious for being the time of year that brings the people to your door. While you would think the holidays would be an excellent time for all of us to table our resentment, it’s often quite the opposite that occurs.
Tips To Have A Happy Holiday As A Caregiver
Now before we get into the tips to having a happy holiday as a caregiver, you first need to realize this truth: your holidays are going to change.
Even if you’ve only been a caregiver for a short time, you’ve already had to make some major adjustments to your life. The holidays are no different. They will not look like they used to. You may not have the time or energy to devote to the activities to which you’re accustomed. You will likely have an entirely different role than you’ve had in the past. Your venues may even need to be adjusted.
Your traditions are going to change and that’s ok. Don’t let it stress you out, but instead focus on making the holiday meaningful to the stage of life you are in now.
Acknowledge your boundaries
You’re a caregiver now. Life has changed and your holidays need to change with it. This means you may have to tell people ‘no’. Your plans now have to consider the health and well-being of your caree.
- What are my caree’s physical abilities?
Is your caree able to travel? Do they have any travel limitations? What accommodations will need to be made to ensure the happiest holiday for all involved? What activities is your caree able to participate in? Where will I find help for the activities they are not able to participate in? Is my caree able to entertain guests?
These are all questions that you need to consider as you make your holiday plans.
- What are my parent’s emotional needs?
If your caree gets overwhelmed easily, you might consider hosting family in your home so your caree has a safe place to retire to when festivities get overwhelming. You also need to consider what your caree expects from the holiday. Are there any traditions that would make the holiday special and meaningful to them?
- How am I going to include everyone?
If you live in a multi-generational home, that is one with an aging caree and children, you’re going to have to do some juggling. Think of different activities and traditions you can do in your home. Make accommodations for your caree so you are free to enjoy activities with your children.
Many of our carees have family and friends that might enjoy visiting over the holiday and you will likely feel inclined to include them as well. Let me stop you there and remind you that their holiday is not your problem. Let them know when they can visit and what the rules are. Notify them of your plans if you wish but let them handle the rest. Your focus need only be on your immediate family, including your caree.
Keep Things Simple
Keep things as uncomplicated as possible. Maintain routines and schedules as best you can so as not to stress out your caree and yourself. Add your holiday plans and traditions to your already established schedule.
Another area of simplicity is decorating your home. Lovers of the holiday season, like myself, have a great desire to turn our homes into wonderlands.
For caregivers, this isn’t always an option. My MIL gets very overwhelmed with change as well as overabundance.
I’ve learned in the last few years to embrace a minimalist mindset in my decorating. My MIL’s room is kept the same at all times. This gives her a safe space that she can return to when the rest of the world and our home get wrapped up in the chaos of the holidays.
An often neglected rule of simplicity is delegation. You may have once taken a very active role in your family’s holidays but now you may need to move into a more managerial role and let others take the reigns.
Related Post: Establishing Your Role as A Caregiver
Let People Know Ahead of Time About Your Needs
Don’t feel bad about letting other people know about the needs of your caree. If you’ve been invited somewhere, be upfront and let them know what your caree will need to enjoy themselves. Finding help becomes particularly hard during the holidays, and while you’ll do your best to participate, you won’t always be able to. Let your host know that you can’t commit 100% to any plans.
As we get into the holiday season, I make sure our family and friends are aware of our limitations:
- My family knows that travel is not a possibility for us during the holidays.
- They are aware that festivities will take place in our home.
- We let potential visitors know to call ahead and schedule any visits they may want to have with my MIL.
- For any gatherings we may have, we coordinate menus to delegate who brings what food so it doesn’t all fall on my shoulders.
Additionally, we reassure our extended family that we don’t expect them to be here on any particular day. My MIL’s Dementia primarily affects her short-term memory. The reassurance that she spent a fantastic holiday with her family makes the actual day we celebrate irrelevant.
Related Post: Why Do Caregivers Have Difficulties with Friendships
Include but Don’t Overwhelm
Decide what parts of your holidays are most important for your caree to participate in. Make intentional efforts to be certain to include them on those parts and then don’t sweat the rest. Ask yourself what would they be sorry to learn they missed? This will help you determine when they should be involved.
Also, bear in mind that just because you know they used to enjoy it doesn’t mean they would feel the same way now. Don’t let your desire for your caree to participate become a battle of wills between you. Don’t force it. If you can’t get your caree to at least begrudgingly join you, let them be. Also, don’t forget, for each activity plan a recovery time.
They may say they want to do it all and seem really excited when you’re discussing your plans but when the time comes, they will appreciate (whether they say it or not) you using your best judgement. Be flexible in your plans.
Don’t forget the gifts
If your caree is a gift giver, as you are shopping, make sure you pick up gifts your caree can give to others. My MIL gives each of her kids a Christmas allowance to buy gifts from her to the grandchildren. The first Christmas we did this, I just added the money to my Christmas budget but didn’t specifically tag any particular gift to my kids with my MIL’s name.
This was a mistake.
My MIL was very concerned because I couldn’t tell her which gift came from her. In her mind, that meant she didn’t get my children anything. As someone who expresses love through giving, this was devastating to her. Now, I make sure that I purchase gifts to my kids with my MIL in mind and put her name on it.
Additionally, giving her things that she will enjoy is also very important. Oftentimes we think our caree doesn’t really need anything or even want anything anymore. We may even think that our sacrifice as a caregiver should be gift enough. Everyone enjoys the special feeling of receiving a gift and your caree is no different. It doesn’t have to be grand, but a small token will go a long way in creating holiday spirit.
Related Post: 7 No-Fail Gift Ideas for Someone with Dementia
Create Traditions in the Home
Finally, keep the bulk of your holiday traditions at home. It’s a mistake to believe we have to go somewhere to make something meaningful. Some of my favorite holiday traditions are the ones created in our home.
- Create meal traditions. Eat a meal by candlelight with fun holiday music. Have a themed gathering like a Christmas Eve Mexican Fiesta or After Thanksgiving Soup Day.
- Decorating the home. Make it an event for the whole family. Stretch it out over several days so as not to overwhelm anyone.
- Start a 12-days tradition. For 12-days leading up to or following your favorite holiday create a new tradition. Read a holiday story, listen to one of the old holiday radio program (there are a lot of podcasts devoted to such!), watch a classic television show. Whatever it is, make it unique and special.
- Elf on the Shelf. Even if you don’t have small children, having this sort of tradition in your home brings a lot of joy. It doesn’t have to be the elf, but having a daily lead-up to the holiday creates a lot of joyful anticipation. Write a small, one-sentence note of encouragement for your caree to “find”, leave a small treat or token, Advent calendars, setting out a new ornament or creating one of the holiday scenes; anything to add to the anticipation of the season.
- Baking. One of our favorite traditions is baking a new treat every week in December. We package up our baked goods and share them with our neighbors, our church, and even mail them to relatives and friends.
- Holiday movies. The week before Christmas, watch a different holiday movie every evening as a family. Make it particularly special by adding popcorn, s’mores, ice-cream floats, hot chocolate, etc.
- Have wrapping parties. This is a great way for you to spend some one-on-one quality time with your caree. Let them choose a paper and help them wrap their gifts. It’s also a great way to emphasize the importance of giving rather than receiving.
A happy holiday is all about mindset. You can have all the time and money in the world and still be miserable.
Your holiday may not be easy. It will certainly be quite different from your usual festivities.
You may not be able to do everything you wish you could do and your holiday certainly won’t look like everyone else’s. Deciding now what is important to you during the holiday season and making a plan will go a long way in you having a happy holiday as a caregiver.
Did you like this post? How do you make your holiday season happy in your multigenerational home? Let me know in the comments below!
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