small girl holds american flag at parade

Road to Retirement: Setting Expectations for Your Teens During the Holidays


“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?” Every time I think of the holidays that song pops into my head. I love this time of year and everything that comes with it. Growing up, it was always magical. My family has wonderful holiday traditions and I’ve tried to carry most of them on into my own family. It’s one of the things that helps tie a nomadic military family like ours to our ancestral roots, and truth be told I have just as much fun as an adult making the magic as I did as a child experiencing it.

While children are little it’s easy to bring excitement for the holidays into your home. They love even the simplest things and are willing to do just about anything. Teenagers on the other hand… not so much. They roll their eyes while texting “my pareNts r lame smh” and refuse to remove their ear buds.

I love to have the kids experience different things, like dressing up, or trying traditional holiday meals from other lands. The younger children think everything I do is “awesome” or “cool.” The older ones think I’ve sat around all year coming up with new ways to torture and embarrass them. They are all correct. I must confess I do take some pleasure in torturing the older ones but only because they offer me the challenge and I feel retribution is in order for all the sighing and eye rolling I endure. Often they end up having a good time in spite of their very best efforts to remain snarly and aloof.  I only know this because years later they have vivid memories of the “torture.”

So here are just three simple suggestions I offer up to all you other PoTTs (parents of touchy teens) out there.

Keep it simple

I have found the more work I put into an activity or event the more upset, tyrannical, and angrier I get when they whine, complain, and throw fits about participating. It makes me want to send everyone to their rooms, break out the Grinch mask, and eat glass.

Often I’m so exhausted from all the preparation I can’t even enjoy it myself, and my nerves are more on edge, POSSIBLY causing me to overreact. Or at least I’ve been told that could be the case. I’m pretty sure the times I’ve flipped out they have all deserved it.

Take advantage of community activities

Again, if I can hop in my car and go participate along with my kids, then my feelings don’t get hurt when they leave saying things like “oh my gosh, that was the dumbest thing ever.”Also, I find I am more relaxed and can enjoy being with them as we experience an event or activity together. I may be less sensitive to their callous remarks.

Most communities will have a light display you can walk or drive through, or other low or no cost events you can enjoy. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and some peppermint sticks and you can ride around sipping away with only your cups to toss at the end of the night. Warning; if you have tiny kiddos like I do, take wet wipes. There is always something or someone sticky to clean up.

Set expectations ahead of time

That goes for both parent and child. If I go with an open mind and don’t expect my teens to gush about how the evening has changed their life, then I probably won’t be disappointed when they shrug their shoulders and say, “eh, it’s whatever.”

Preparing the kids in advance gives them an opportunity to make an informed choice about what will happen if they misbehave. For instance, I might tell my 7 and 8 year old boys, “don’t touch anything or anyone; no leaping, running, or ninja-type activity; stay with Dad and me or you will go sit in the car with your older brother who I happen to know has 550 cord in his pocket and has been wanting to practice new knots” or some other equally horrible consequence for bad behavior.

For teens however, you must change tactics. Getting left in the car is usually preferable to the family activity. The guidance to them goes more like this: “Leave your iPod in the car, your phone in your pocket, stay with us and look like you are part of our family and if you can manage a smile that would be a bonus. If you can’t manage an hour of family fun then your phone is mine until I see and feel the familial love. If you are surly, I will text everyone in your contact list random and obnoxious things as if it were you.” I think it’s only fair to let them know what they are up against. This is the holidays after all.

Keeping your cool can be difficult in the face of teen rebellion. No one can look more bored, more annoyed, or more disgusted with you and your efforts than a teenager. It’s hard not to take it personally, especially if you have put a lot of work into creating a special night.

I wish I had listened to my mother’s gift giving advice years ago! I have the best time finding gifts for my kids and getting what I know they need or want. It is sometimes ridiculously stressful for me and I am the one who has created this seasonal monster in my own mind.  Not every year is flush with funds and setting limits, even during the more financially secure years, can be really helpful.

If you perhaps have created a monster like I have, it’s best to refocus on the reason you celebrate, whatever it is, and give a sense of purpose to the holiday beyond that of presents and personal gain. Decide what works and is affordable and then make that clear well before the holidays.

More than anything, I want my children to know how much they are loved and wanted at home anytime of the year but especially during the holiday season. If I have to torture them with hugs and kisses to get the message across then so be it! If I have to bribe them with pie and hot cocoa and movie nights and slumber parties under the Christmas tree, then I will sacrifice myself for the sake of building family bonds and giving them another year of “do you remember when mom…” It’s my duty and I’m willing to step up and fall on that shiny sparkly holiday grenade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *