Let’s face it, as kids grow older the magic of the festive season fades a little. Teenagers may be more excited about two weeks away from school, and the chance to update their social media minute-by-minute than they are about family time, gift-giving, and hanging out with you. But with a little planning and understanding, you can preserve as much of the magic of the holidays as possible. Here are some tips on how to achieve this holiday miracle!
1. Be Realistic. Holidays, especially ones with long drawn out periods of anticipation, are just more exciting for younger kids. If you accept this and don’t try to make your teens feel the excitement of a 6-year-old, you can set your family up for holiday success.
2. Think like a Teenager. Putting the angel on top of the tree or lighting the first candle on the menorah may have wowed your kids when they were in grade school but not when they are in high school. But if these moments are important to you, think of a way to make it more teen friendly. Ask them when they have time to join you. Don’t assume they have no plans. If you can get them to buy-in, who cares what time it is even if it’s lunchtime? Offer a favorite food treat as part of the occasion. Make that the time you have the favorite hot chocolate or cookies ready for sharing. Text them an invite way ahead of time. Follow this time together with something they really want to do: borrow the car, have friends over, ignore you for the next 12 hours, whatever it takes. Oh, and by the way, don’t insist that they put their phones down while the event is going on. That may be your way of having an old time family gathering but it will inevitably ensure the event is short and unappreciated.
3. Enjoy Not Getting Christmas Crazy. In so many families, it is parents that hold on to the magic of the holidays long after its natural expiration date. That’s OK but it’s also OK to let it go, even if it’s a bit at a time. Do you really need to go and drag everyone to the farthest tree farm because that’s where you went on baby’s first Christmas? Could you swap that experience for one that older kids might enjoy more and resist less and at the same time save yourself hours of driving and searching for the right tree? Could you ask your teen to drive you to the local Home Depot to grab a tree, any tree, just so you can spend time with them in the car? Same for home decorating, extensive meal planning, etc. If you truly enjoy these activities, do them forever. But you might enjoy an afternoon with a glass of wine and time with your partner over baking seven pies for the memory of it.
4. Decide Your Non-Negotiables and Hold onto Them to the End! Make a small list of very important events, meals, times, traditions that are the most important to you. Post the list with times and locations. Email and text it to your kids. Make it abundantly clear if each specific occasion is to be enjoyed with or without screens (see the words of caution above) and if their attendance is preferred or mandatory. Do this weeks ahead of time. Send reminders and do not allow anyone to miss these events. You deserve the family holiday you want and picking these few special moments and being clear about expectations will help you get it.
5. Ask for as Much Input as Possible. While the response will be muted or even nonexistent (and that’s totally OK) you may get one or two gems that will help you keep the holiday spirit alive. If you ask for menu ideas and get nothing but a text demanding Challah bread, then you know to include that food treat at one of your favored events.
6. Make Your Home the Favored Place to Hang Out for the Holidays. Sneaky and fraught with danger, this time-honored campaign strategy can backfire in so many ways. But, if you play your cards right, you can have a house full of teenagers! The best way to be the cool house is to dial down, but never, ever, eliminate entirely, your level of parenting. Don’t make the mistake of allowing bad behavior and pretending the kids will like you because you’re cool. But, filling the fridge with sodas and snacks, saying nothing more than a neutral hello to any guests, and allowing some level of greater freedom than usual can be a successful strategy. Remember, your own kids don’t have to be impressed by you, the other kids do. And you are not competing with their favorite TikTok stars, you only have to be cooler than their own parents which is a cinch.
The holidays are different with older kids but they don’t have to be any less fulfilling for you as a parent. Enjoy every moment you get to spend together and dial down your expectations. Buy yourself some good wine and cheese and have the best festive season ever.