This is one of my most popular blog posts. It was written in 2011, but it’s timeless. Year after year after year …
We have a law in our home. It applies to all persons, regardless of their history of trauma and endless list of survival behaviors. It was created by dictators with no democratic hope for change or removal. It goes a little something like this:
You can’t lose Christmas.
That’s it. No details. No exceptions. Period. Finito. That’s that.
The same goes for birthdays.
I have literally said to my children, “You can burn the house down. We will move into a hotel until the house is rebuilt. We will collect insurance money, rebuy gifts and still have Christmas. Because you can’t lose Christmas.”
“But what if they broke their brother’s DS?”
You can’t lose Christmas.
“Wait. There is not an inch of our house NOT covered in urine and/or feces!”
You can’t lose Christmas.
“My son called me a b****!”
Yup. One of my kids called my husband that last night (um, yeah – we couldn’t help chuckling). You can’t lose Christmas.
“You don’t get it. My kid actually poisoned the dog.”
It is horrific. Yes. Their trauma is horrific. And repair work can and should be done for the sake of their hearts. Part of that? It goes like this:
You can’t lose Christmas.
Of course, this goes for whatever your major celebration is: Hanakah, Kwanza, Solstice, birthday, fill-in-the-blank.
Before I go any further, let me state that for you as a parent it is going to rip your guts inside out. You are going to hear a voice echoing in your head from some family member (or yourself) that says, “If I had ever done something like that, I wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week or would’ve been grounded for a month of Sundays!” You are going to feel like you are letting your child get away with something.
In those moments there are a few things I keep in mind to help me calm and remember what is truly going on.
Trauma has jacked with the brains of our kids. In a stressful moment/week/season they get stuck in a part of their brain that was meant to only be visited on occasion, in extreme circumstances. Our kids also find themselves regressed emotionally and developmentally in those times. They can be, quite literally, a three-year-old in a 12-year-old body.
Imagine a three year old kicking and biting and hitting two days before Christmas. Throwing toys and scratching up the family dining room set. Having a massive tantrum. Would we take Christmas away? Nope. That’s crazy talk. A three year old cannot understand the magnitude of what they’re doing when they feel out of control. We would redirect in the moment. When they are calm, we would reconnect with them and give them an opportunity to do the same. That is how we heal and guide young children. Our kids need the exact same thing. There is a reason they do these crazy things that are just so beyond description. They are camped in a part of their brain that wanted to kick them out long ago.
Family celebrations and holidays are an opportunity to imprint into their minds and hearts: you are a part of this family. Period. Finito. You can never lose that.
Personally, this makes me angry. If anger is a miscue for what is really going on inside of me, then I have to admit that it makes me feel … hmmm … powerless? As though I lack authority in my own home? I have this overwhelming desire to make sure that my kids know just how BAD their behavior was. So (in my head), my reaction to cursing should be somewhat extreme. My reaction to destruction of property or violence should be over-the-top. That is my default. That feels like the right thing to do.
You can’t behave this way and cause such utter havoc in a home and still get Christmas? Right?
It’s the way almost all of us were raised. It’s the way our parents were raised. It didn’t cause more damage to many of us, because we received and maintained that vital nurturing and connection in the earliest years. We could handle some very authoritarian and militant responses from parents, because we had a trust in them. We believed we would be taken care of. We were functioning on top of a base that had been built years before.
Our children are trying to function on quick sand.
They don’t believe they deserve celebrations. They don’t believe they deserve a family and stability and genuine love. They assume, all the time, that the bottom is going to drop out again. So, they take what little control they do have. They go ahead and try to sabotage the good. At least they can decide when it happens. In their minds, that’s something.
“But if we do this, we aren’t teaching our kids right from wrong. They’ll think what they did was okay.”
Really? When was the last time your child became dysregulated and gave you a back rub because they didn’t know right from wrong? They have got the right-from-wrong thing down to a SCIENCE!
“But they’ll think I’m okay with it!”
Again … why do you think they did it in the first place? They KNOW that most humans are not okay with it. When you stay therapeutic, stay calm and in control, continue to create a space where they can be heard even when speaking through behaviors … you are finally teaching them the thing they don’t believe. Some adults can be trusted. Some love can be safe. THAT is where the magic happens.
Otherwise, when we enter that battle and begin the snowball of consequences, we are feeding the shame. You are not a bad person for doing that. You are HUMAN for doing that. I’ve done it a gazillion times, myself. Because I’m human, too.
And do you know what makes it even harder? We don’t see the shame. We don’t see the hurt many times. We see anger and narcissism on crack. It looks like our children don’t care. They don’t care what we give them. They don’t care what is taken away. Or we see rage. Manipulation. Sass. Or we see ALL of that, depending on the day!
The more aloof your child appears, the more they are trying to hide their pain. The more angry your child appears, the more they are trying to hide their fear. The things your child yells at others is a direct reflection of the very things they believe about themselves. Sit with that. For your own sake, and to keep breathing right now, just sit with it. Do not beat yourself up. Just sit. Absorb. Take a moment to take care of yourself before you move forward, even in your reading and thinking.
When we know better, we do better. And messing up in parenting is like GOLD! Sometimes it does more good than if you’d rocked it in the first place. No … really.
If you have already told your kid they have lost Christmas, just fix it. Walk in and say, “Ya’ know, I’ve been thinking. I realize that you have been feeling stressed. You’re actually trying to talk to me with how you are behaving, and I have been stressed too – so I wasn’t listening! Geeez. What a mess, huh? Well, I’m sorry. I totally messed up. Did you know grown-ups mess up? Well, you do now. Cause I blew it. Could I have a do-over? When I said you lost Christmas, I made a mistake. In fact, I would like to make a law in our home: you can’t lose Christmas. Is it cool with you if we make that law?”
When you mess up and fix it and reconnect, you do amazing things toward healing in your child. It. is. gold.
Okay, okay, okay. I say all of that to also say this:
I get it.
So, what are you doing for you? “Do not focus on your child’s behavior all the time. Do not become obsessed.” Find you again. Take care of you. Keep Christmas in place, and find a way to love on your own heart and your own mind. Step away from the trauma. Let it carry on while you carry yourself. Five minutes here and there.
Minutes well spent.
Make sure everyone has their Christmas, everyone has their family … even if it doesn’t look like what we always dreamed.
Tags: pacing yourself