On Parenting, Holiday Edition

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Dec 02, 2019

Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach with Positively Parenting joined On Parenting editor Amy Joyce to talk about parenting and the busy holiday season.

Welcome to our special holiday chat with Meghan Leahy. She recently announced on social media (so we have to hold her to it) that she is trying hard to not whine, not stress, to really enjoy this season with her kids. How are you planning to do that? What are you hoping for, practicing, working toward? And, of course, what do you hope Meghan can help you with as you ponder screentime and free days, messed up bedtimes, too much sugar, presents, open days with no schedules, family visiting... well, you get the point. 

Lots of questions await, and we're looking forward to hearing from you. Hop on in and let's talk parenting and holidays, shall we? 

I am an elderly woman on a limited income; my children are both far away, and we decided years ago not to exchange gifts (cards & emails are great!). My sister's family lives nearby, and I love seeing them on the holiday, but cannot convince them that I do not wish to do gifting. (I would like to buy the one child a gift, but don't know what he'd like) The parents are lovely people, and have all the "Stuff" they'll ever need, and I have all the "Stuff" I want/need, so please help!!!

Something tells me that all of the readers will be able to help with this...

The first thing I thought of was a picture in a frame...if you have a picture of your sister as a child, I think people truly treasure those gifts.

Also, anything homemade is appreciated. If you have a craft or can bake your sister's favorite cookies, put them in a beautiful container, and pass along family recipes...again, it is more like an heirloom and won't cost an arm and a leg.

If all else fails, gift cards (while being as impersonal as anything I can imagine), are still appreciated no matter the amount and everyone loves a good set of mittens (depending on your climate).

Don't be afraid to call ask about the child's favorite cookies or other treats, as well as the child's favorite activities!

One way to settle into the season and enjoy, even if it's just for a little while before bedtime: holiday books you can read with your kiddos. Here are some lovely suggestions, out this year

Hi Meghan and Amy, What is your advice for coparenting through the holidays? I feel like both parents want to enjoy all of the experiences and the kids end up exhausted and overstimulated. Conversations and planning with the other parent doesn't seem to work. Thank you!

Firstly, the fact that you are aware and care is a win. Seriously. Some parents cannot get out of their own way, and I get it! There is time off and everyone wants to have fun and make it special, etc., etc.


If conversation and planning doesn't work with the other parent (and I would take another shot at that with some CLEAR language, like: I am taking Roger and Michelle ice skating on Saturday, and in the interest of not burning them out, could you do a movie on Sunday?) Go ahead and be a bit specific...maybe your co-parent doesn't "get it." I don't know, but keep trying.

But of your co-parent in set on burning the kids out, it falls to you to be responsible and plan some other stuff.

Maybe you have some active stuff planned, and I am suggesting you let it all go, but can you augment it so that it doesn't pile on? Can it be spaced differently? Shortened? And yes, can you swap out more busy activity for something quieter.

If you google "Quiet Activities with my Seven Year Old" (as an example), up will come thousands of ideas of activities that don't require tons of energy. From baking to making slime to old school card and board games to video game competitions (yes, I am okay with that), there are TONS of ways to have fun with your children while bonding and not ragging them out.

And if you are angry about this, I get it. It feels unfair. But trust that your children will get older and you may be able to push the boundary a little bit more (in terms of activities). In the meantime, remember these things:

1. It is more important for you to coparent lovingly (HUGE impact on your children)

2. These quiet activities count as connection and fun and good memories.

3. Think outside the box when you can do the more energetic activities not just on Christmas break. 

Good luck.

Are your chats moving to Mondays?

Nope! Today is a special holiday chat. Meghan will have her regular chat this Weds. 

Favorite tips for weaning a 3 year old off the paci? It's going to be a Christmas week project. Currently uses it for sleeping and comfort when upset, but not otherwise. Thanks!

Oh boy.


Sucking is a soothing mechanism, and between the wild schedule and the gifts and the food and the family...wouldn't you want your child to feel soothed? And if you are traveling, FORGET IT. Bring alllll the paci's.

Otherwise, you can "paci fairy" this situation (Google it) or you can cold turkey it. Because I tend to drag things out, I tend to go cold turkey...but you must be ready for the weeping and gnashing of teeth at bedtime. Your three year old will use all of their skills to get that paci back, so just be ready to see bedtime extended...but everyone WILL be okay. If you are going to do this, try not to give in and then snatch it back, etc. You gotta go all in.

Good luck.

Hi, Meghan. My 13yo daughter really wants Air Pods for Christmas. I'm hesitant because, well, they are expensive and she tends to lose things (Hello, 13). But it could also be a good exercise in learning to be responsible for something. My husband objects, because of the cost and the status-symbol aspect of all of it. Any thoughts on Air Pods for a young teen? Thanks!



Well, 13 yo's are often into status and truthfully, I love me a AirPod, too...they are quite good.

But, something doesn't feel right about giving your child these pricey, HIGHLY losable items...feels like a set-up.

My suggestion is that she pay for half and you punt it out of Christmas. Meaning, get her other stuff she wants, and then strike a deal where she raises the money for these ear buds. I would be interested to see if she takes better care of them if she has some more skin in the game.

The only other thing I am thinking is that, does she misplace things because she is distracted? Does she misplace them because she has too many things and doesn't appreciate what she has? Or can her brain not hold on to where things are...truly?

Take a harder look at her tendency to lose things and make sure there isn't something else there (just in case).

Please stop with the suggestions to make homemade gifts. I can neither craft nor bake and there's no way anything homemade by me is going to be a hit with anyone I know. But I sympathize with the problem of too much stuff. Even books are not al good option for my grandkids, as they are buried in books at home. I do put money into an education fund for each of them and I go ahead and buy whatever the parents suggest but OMG you cannot imagine the amount of stuff they already have. It's a real problem.

(Just FYI, she said IF you can craft or bake, and had a bunch of other suggestions...) 

But. Meghan? Anything else to add about the too much stuff? 

I can't bake anything but bricks. I know people say give experiences but here are some examples I've seen that have been appreciated: yoga classes (together or separately); swim lessons; music classes; museum, garden or aquarium memberships; classes at a local garden center/hardware store; season tickets/packages to the local theater, concert hall or opera; a trip to the local soft playroom/bounce house. Some of these will depend a lot on the age of the kid and the activity level of the adult.

We are spending the holidays with my husband's extended family, whose politics are quite different from ours and tend to infect pretty much all their discussions. It is exhausting to be around them, even if we were on the same side. Now we have young children (6, 9) who will doubtlessly listen and ask questions. I am certain the extended family will use this as an opportunity to try to indoctrinate our kids. The thing is, I actually want our kids to be able to listen to other people's views and make up their own minds -- I did, and I think I'm better for it -- but I'm not eager to devote an entire holiday to this. Plus my kids seem on the young side for this (but maybe they aren't?). So what are some good ways to talk about differences in politics in an age-appropriate way? Do we disagree with "Aunt Sue" about immigration to her face? Or discuss it later?

Oh man.


Here's the deal. Families are breaking up because of politics in this country. Father and son, mother and daughter, entire branches of families are being cut off due to out inability to listen to each other and find a middle way (what that middle way is...I don't know).

I want, with all my parent coach heart, for families to stay together.

Makes me think of broadcast I was listening to the other day on NPR. Brene Brown was talking about how hard it is to stay in conversation with others we disagree with, and how much courage it requires.

She mentions that you can civilly and strongly disagree/exit the situation when you feel that someone is emotionally or physically abusing your boundaries. Pushing you without any regard for, well, you.

I don't know what this all means for you, but if you are using words like INDOCTRINATE, well my flags go up. You raising your children to be open-minded does not mean you subject them to blowhard bullies who refuse to see children for what they are...CHILDREN.

It is out of line. Period.

So, I would call Aunt Sue (don't email) and say, "We are looking forward to this break. I am not allowing my children to be a part of political discussions; we are focusing on gratitude and family. If it comes up and the boundaries are disrespected, we will leave."

And toward this end, I would have a hotel ready.

If a hotel is not possible, I would consider either going for a day or simply not going at all. 

Life is simply too short to spend time with people who don't respect your boundaries and most importantly, don't care about what the children are subjected to.



Haha. Just so no one thinks I'm a terrible mom, we're coming back from the holidays on the 26th, so we have almost a full week until daycare reopens to do this. So she will be at home, on a routine, no visitors, etc. and there will be time to deal with sleeplessness without affecting work (we hope). She often wants the paci after school because she's tired/possibly an introvert, so we felt we needed several days without school.

Go for it, then!

Hi Meghan! Thank you for all your sage advice and insight here. In the last chat, you gave some good advice about devices for a parent who was concerned about screen time and upcoming holiday travel. Might you remind *parents* that when giving their kid(s) a device to entertain them, to *please* ensure the child uses earbuds, earphones, or puts the device on silent? I'm sure I'm not the only one who's had to tolerate beeps, boops, TV shows/videos, music, games, etc. in every environment - including on airplanes. (btw, I don't enjoy these noises from Adults who refuse to wear earbuds, either.) This is just common courtesy. Please and thank you!

Yes, you would assume that parents would do this...but sometimes it is all they can do to get the child to sit.

Hence, invest in a good pair of noise blockers for yourself! They are the gift that keeps giving! ;)

I am 37 weeks pregnant with our first baby, due a few days before Christmas. Any advice on how to handle the inevitable overlap between two celebratory events, both this year and in the future?

Hooray for you! Our younger guy was also born just before Christmas. I remember one mom with a classmate of his born on the same day saying to me that she likes to celebrate her daughter's birthday as the kick off to the season. (Just as I was whining that this is all so tough and overwhelming.) It changed my perspective.

One thing we tend to do if we have a kid bday party is wait until the holidays are over and do something in January or even later. It is a sort of a second celebration and his pals or parents of pals aren't feeling wiped out and annoyed at yet another thing. We make sure to celebrate his actual day with family, a favorite dinner, cake or whatever. It was easier to separate the two than I expected, but it does take a little *planning.

*(Get any birthday gifts before you deal with other holiday gifts! Lesson learned.)

How old are the kids? Would they appreciate a donation in their name to a cause they care about? An animal shelter, children's charity, etc?

One year my aunt gave my siblings and I on a wild shopping spree...for Angel Tree kids. It was a really fun experience, and I think she took us all to lunch after, and that was our Christmas gift. Great gift, great memory.

Love this. And a great reminder ... 

My SIL has 2 kids wo never hear "no." They have horrible table manners. They will not sit at a table unless they have an electronic gizmo in their 4 yo (niece) & 6 yo (nephew). The will only talk to adults unless it is to teach them how to play their videogame. The loud screams of the kids plus the electronic game sounds trigger a migraine or even a seizure. I have been hit with a migraine the last 5 Christmass. I have missed Christmas because of SIL's screaming kids. I've asked for kids to use "inside voices," but it hasn't worked. The parents claim their kids gets excited & "there's nothing we can do." This is the first year my MIL & FIL will have all their family for Christmas. (My SO died but I still consider they family & do all I can to support a strong relationship. SIL's kids are much younger than mine (14 & 17) and never talk to them unless it's to borrow their phone to play a game. SIL2 is coming from far away with her hubby & 2 boys (5 & 9). The boys are just so adorable, polite & a joy. My kids would love to take the boys on activities but not the kids of SIL1. I'm not even sure if we will go to the big family Christmas if SIL1 refuses to mute electronics & use indoor voices. I refuse to put my health at risk of a migraine or seizure. Am I being unreasonable here?

A seizure? A migraine? My heavens, no, you aren't being unreasonable. Go to the dinner, put in ear plugs (I am not kidding) and as soon as you feel the least bit exhausted by it, leave.

Sounds so chaotic that, chances are good, no one will even notice that you left.

Dear Meghan - we have two kids (5 and 6) and strict tv guidelines. No TVs on weekdays, limited tv on weekends, and no other screen time. But when we are home for the holidays, I am tempted to throw all rules out of the window and sit around for 5 days watching movies. Is this totally tragic or can we proceed with a clear conscience?


Could we do something in the middle?

And listen...the holiday season means ALL DAY HOLIDAY movies to me! And, as long as they are non-violent, they are wonderful way to start traditions, cuddle, and enjoy each other.

I would make sure to get your children outside, move those bodies, run, jump...anything. That makes the hot chocolate and popcorn all the better!

My stepdaughter and several friends of mine have birthdays near Christmas. One big thing I learned is do NOT combine presents into "one big present" for both. It may be fine when they're older, but having separate birthday and Christmas presents is fun and don't deprive them of that joy. Completely agree with holding off on any party with friends until mid January.


Another thing: A friend of mine growing up would always be a bit bummed when we were younger if her bday gifts were wrapped in Christmas paper. Never has to be a huge celebration, but if there's a birthday moment, let it be a birthday moment. 

My toddler switches between his dad’s and my house for Christmas: Christmas Eve through the morning with one of us, and late Christmas Day morning with the other. I suggested we have Santa visit one (alternating) house so there’s not an exorbitant amount of gifts at both and the resulting questions about Santa hitting two houses) but it was ignored. I want to keep Christmas gifts low key, especially knowing Dad’s is going to be an explosion of presents but it does bother me that at some point, my son might prefer Christmas at dad’s simply because there are more and bigger gifts? It’s already headed that direction after his 2nd birthday where Dad spent a lot on a child’s car. He also kept the house, so I’m worrying about my son not wanting to stay with me at some point because I only have a small apartment. I guess this is an overarching theme: dad has a lot and I don’t. How do I stop worrying about losing my son in a war of materialism?

How about giving yourself the gift of waving the white flag in this war?  You have lost. Dad has one the war of materialism. Good for him.

Now that you have left the battle scene, you are now free to cultivate memories and traditions that actually mean something. Oh sure, I remember coming down and getting that Barbie house...it was everything. But really? What I really remember is sticky buns and a fire in the fireplace and my parents smiling. I remember staying in PJ's and just feeling warm and safe. The toys all fell aside.

So, yeah, you have less of what you think your son wants, but you have an abundance of what he needs: you.

Don't play at this losing game, 100% focus on what you CAN do. And really celebrate all that stuff he gets at his Dad's house, invite him to bring it over. It will never hold a candle to love and connection.

The OP says: "... but cannot convince them that I do not wish to do gifting". My advice: Don't do any gifting! Visit with them and consider that your gift to them. If they give you anything accept it graciously and that's it. It seems like you told them you don't want gifts but they insist so all you can do is accept them.

My sister's son is extremely disrespectful in my home. He walks on furniture, throws food, grinds chocolate into rugs, is fresh, rude and mean to my kids. I discipline as best as I can for someone else's child, i.e. if we don't like the candy, we throw it in the trash, not the floor or carpet but it does nothing to change the behavior. Thanksgiving was a nightmare. How do I tactfully bring this up...because it's gone on too long, I have to bring it up.

So, when I read that there was chocolate ground into a rug, my mouth dropped.

Here's the deal: how OLD is this child?

If he is three, that's one thing.

If he is nine, that's another.

And does he have any needs that aren't being met with proper supervision?

Either way, let your sister know that there was some "rudeness and food messiness" over Thanksgiving and you are going to sit everyone down for some rules.

That means that all the kids get the rules and when they are broken, there is a consequence for ALL of them.

What I am trying to do is not laser in on your nephew...being called out as the "problem" doesn't tend to go well...so make "rules for all" and let your sister know that if he cannot abide, he will have stay by her side, all night.

These boundaries may not go over well, but give it a try. Be as kind and firm as possible (BOTH).

Oh, and roll up your rugs! And don't give the kids any food but for one room and monitor it!

My kiddos (7 and 9) have two weeks of Christmas break coming... and it's creeping up on me fast! I'm lucky because I will be able to work from home during that time, and will have days off for Christmas Day and New Years Eve and Day, along with the weekends. But what can I do to make sure my kids don't turn into glassy-eyed TV monsters? I want to plan activities but I know realistically that I'm going to be pretty busy and unable to directly be involved with them all day. Any ideas?

1. Google activity ideas and get the supplies sent to your house, stat.

2. Create playdates with friends and neighbors.

3. Can they stay with some family fora night or two?

4. Get your own schedule more specific so that you can make proper plans. For instance, everyone goes to an indoor pool all morning, does video games while you work in the afternoon, etc.

5. Make a list of movies that they want to see and get through them!

6. Do the best you can and don't feel guilty.

Thanks for joining us for our first annual holiday-themed chat. Meghan's back to her usual this Wednesday. Come join us/ask your questions now

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach. She holds a master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins, taught high school English, and was a Parent Educator with PEP. She is the mom of three girls.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for On Parenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
Recent Chats
  • Next: