Getting ready for sugar-wielding aunties and “When are you having (another) baby”? In the lead-up to Hari Raya, here’s some parenting advice to help you survive any large family gathering!
Celebrating big occasions like Hari Raya, Diwali, Chinese New Year and Christmas with the extended family is amazing fun, but it can get hectic and stressful, especially with a child in tow. I’m not sure about you, but I’m going into the festive season with my eyes wide open and getting as prepared as possible. Here’s my family celebration survival plan; see you on the other side, sister!
5 tips on surviving celebrations with the extended fam
1. Prepare Your Child
It gets pretty overwhelming for children, especially younger toddlers, when it comes to hanging out with the entire extended family. Firstly, it’s a room full of strangers, which quickly becomes a room full of strangers trying to get into your child’s face and offer them hugs and kisses. Somehow the more your child clings on to you, the more our over-enthusiastic relatives try to pry them out of our arms. Repeat this scenario at every single house you visit. While we all know it’s from a place of love, it can be daunting for our kids, especially if we’re not there to offer them the security they need.
If you’ve attended one of my workshops, you’ll know how much I stress on being that secure, safe space for your child, even when we don’t always understand why they’re reacting in a certain way. In this case, holding on to your child is crucial to actually giving them the confidence to maybe venture out to say hi once they’re had some time to warm up. Another tip a fellow mum gave me was to try to be one of the first few to arrive at a gathering so your child has sufficient time to slowly warm up instead of being surprised by a large rowdy group.
Prior to visiting it’s also good to prepare your child for the day’s activities and how they might feel during the course of the day. I like to give my son an idea of what we will be doing, whom we might meet, how he might feel, and reassure him that I will be there for him. I also take the opportunity to throw in a reminder or two about desirable behaviour. Telling them things such as “you might feel uncomfortable when there are too many people around, so you can hold onto my hand until you feel better” offers them a way to cope.
In addition to the ground rules you’ve established with your partner so you’re both singing the same tune (refer to point 2), it also helps to rehearse scenarios with your child on management techniques. For example, when he is offered food by a stranger, he should check with you before accepting it. For verbal children, it is especially effective when the child is able to say “no” or “I’m allergic to this” instead of you having to step in. In the case of younger toddlers, apart from you being the junk food police, enlist the help of your cousins or grandparents by explaining why some things are forbidden.
2. Align with Your Partner
Getting your partner onboard is actually one of the strategies I consider most crucial to whether we survive well, or die trying. It’s not so much about agreeing on everything, but about setting some ground rules to refer to during the period. One of our ground rules revolves around sugar and how much leeway we will be extending to our son. This way, it keeps the message clear and consistent with the kids, and we don’t wind up arguing over who’s being mean.
Another ground rule is that if we start to feel like our son is getting overly hyper (a big sign that he’s tired), either of us can call it a day and leave the party, no questions asked. We also have an unwritten rule where if it’s a family gathering featuring my family members, my husband tends to be on baby-duty so it gives me time to catch up with my relatives. Of course, our roles swap if it’s his side of the family.
We try to align with each other before most large-scale events such as birthday parties or family gatherings. It helps us both get on the same page before we head out, and operate like a lean dream team (most of the time!).
3. Pack (Better) Snacks
You always end up being the bad person, especially when it comes to mum vs sugar. It is especially frustrating and worrisome when your child has allergies and people make light of them. “Food allergies? Back in the day, we let you eat everything. You turned out fine!”
Most times, such comments stem from two places; the first being a place of ego where the older generation feel they know better since they’re raised us all to be well and strong. They may also see your new-age techniques as a criticism to theirs. The second stems from feeling sorry for the child who has to miss out on candy and cookies whilst other children are enjoying these treats. To mitigate this sense of missing out, I fill my bag with other more suitable-yet-enticing and delicious alternative snacks so no one feels sorry for my son. Our current household obsession is mini popcorn bags, as well as freeze-dried fruit covered with yoghurt. Having them in individual serve packets also help with portion control. Note to self: the same can also be said about single serve vodka shots in those mini bottles.
4. Witty Comebacks
My WhatsApp chat group with my girlfriends starts to get really active when someone shares their dread towards the impending questions from her relatives over Chinese New Year. She isn’t alone. What used to be reserved for singles and their dating status has now extended to married couples and the state of their brood:
“Don’t keep waiting to have children, you’re not young anymore!”
“Congratulations you’re pregnant, it’s about time!”
“When are you going to have the second one? Your first born seems lonely.”
The one that takes the cake though, involves child manipulation: “Ask your mummy for a brother/sister!”
Let’s face it – a real, honest answer to any of those questions probably won’t cut it. The best way to get them off your back is to make sure you are armed with a set of witty comebacks delivered half-jokingly, but firm enough that they get the message. I didn’t come up with all these suggestions on my own, and have to say some of my friends have mastered some pretty good skills. I repeat, the key is to saying it jokingly, but let your eyes do the real talking.
5. Be Prepared Yourself
You’ve probably heard it a million times, but I thought I’d say it again. Things hardly ever go as planned. That said, I am a true believer in being as prepared as one can be in the face of challenging situations, especially when you’ve got a rough idea of what you might expect. Being prepared yourself means accepting that sometimes relatives will speak before they think, and your child will probably have a massive meltdown at the dinner table just when your snooty cousin walks in with her kids decked out in designer gear. When that happens, breathe, count to 5, and remember that this only comes around once a year so really, you should instead be feeling sorry for the other people who have to see that cousin of yours every day.