Reimagine Your “Perfect” Holiday

Smiling father holding disabled young son in his arms outdoors during snowfall. Child has cerebral palsy.

It’s ok to celebrate in a way that works with caregiving. 

As the holiday season begins, many of us start to feel added stress. From shopping, to meal prep and décor, to figuring out visits with family and friends, managing the holidays as a caregiver requires an extra layer of preparation. Here are a few tips to consider, helping you create more space for yourself and hopefully adding more joy to the holidays for everyone you care for.  

1. Fill your cup 

While the idea of self-care, or deliberately looking after your own wellbeing, has become increasingly common in popular culture, most of us are still figuring out what that means for us on a practical level. Perhaps the best way to start is to find someone that can offer you support. Having a friend, therapist or peer support mentor on your “Favourites” call list is a must for the holidays, and year-round. Discuss a plan with them ahead of time to make sure they’re ready, willing and available to take your call – even for just five minutes in the middle of a holiday celebration.  

As well, try to find a few moments to yourself. Even a five-minute walk around the block can help. If possible, book respite care and take part of that time to do something you enjoy, like reading a book, having a cup of tea or coffee, or getting together for a meal with a friend. It doesn’t have to be a day at the spa (though that’s nice too!). The important part is to let go of feeling guilty and to recognize your own needs.  

2. Be flexible with shopping 

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate, buying special food, decorations and gifts are important traditions for many. They are also additional tasks added to the challenge of shopping while caregiving. They key is to stay flexible and try not to get stuck in how you used to do things – even just for this year.  

Whether you’re shopping with or without your care recipient, you may find it useful to run errands with someone else. For example, you can team up, share your shopping lists and each cover half a store or certain section of the mall. You may also want to bring someone that can act as a secondary caregiver so that you can focus on getting what’s on your list.  

Another option is to order online. Many stores will gather your groceries or gifts for you and have them ready for you to pick-up or schedule a delivery. If you’re worried about the environmental impact of shipping, try to order in bulk and accept this as a temporary holiday solution.  

You can also cut back on the number of gifts or the number of people you buy for. More and more people are opting for shared experiences over buying more things that may end up in the declutter pile. This could be the year that your family and friends want to start an anonymous gift exchange. 

3. Adjust holiday meals 

Another holiday challenge while caregiving can be the planning of festive meals and events. Timing, location or the amount of food expected may need to be adjusted. Remind yourself and those invited that the intention is to spend quality time together and you’d like their help in adapting your plans. 

Consider the day of the event – does it need to be on the holiday itself or is there a time that works better for you? Also consider the time of day and the length of your commitment to attend or to host. A short visit is sometimes sweeter.  

If the person you’re caring for lives in a long-term care home or assisted living facility, transportation can become an issue. Consider bringing the party to them. Check to see if there is a party room or common space available where they live and book it.  

When preparing food, check in with yourself about what might have been expected in the past and what is reasonable for you to do now. Can you cut back on the number of dishes you make or ask others to help? If you’re doing a cookie exchange, bake one dessert, not three. And if you really need a break, budget for catering or order in.  

4. Cut back on décor 

If you’re used to transforming your home into a winter wonderland, it may be disappointing to think about cutting back. On the other hand, the time it takes to put decorations up (and take them down later) may be time you want to take back to focus on other things. No one is suggesting you be a grinch, but maybe you don’t need to be mayor of Whoville either.  

In addition, safety may be a consideration. Caring for someone with mobility issues or spontaneity of movement can make decorating more difficult. You may want to switch to softer items and flameless candles.  

5. Start a new tradition  

Perhaps the most important thing to recognize and acknowledge is how our holidays have changed as a result of caregiving. Take some time to remember how you celebrated in the past and to acknowledge how that exact experience may no longer be possible. Allow yourself to be upset. Feel the pain and grieve any losses.  

Then you can be open to something new. Let go of your old idea of a “perfect” holiday (there is no such thing to begin with). Think of this change as an opportunity.  

Get creative, be brave and start a new tradition! You can start with a small ritual – what’s most important is the meaning behind your traditions. And that meaning is what remains, regardless of how you celebrate. 

Best wishes for a contented caregiving holiday and an inspiring new year!