Christmas is such an exciting time, a special day to look forward to – a day of warmth, of love, of joy and relaxation. However the build-up to the big day can be a great source of anxiety for many families. We all worry about getting the right gifts for people, preparing the perfect Christmas dinner, getting the house ready and spending concentrated time with extended family. Strained relationships and complex family structures can cause conflict, and the expectations of friends, family and ourselves to enjoy ‘the perfect Christmas’ together can be overwhelming.

All families are different, but here are some suggestions and tips for keeping the pressure off.

  1. State expectations and be realistic.

Make sure that you have conversations with your family and friends about everyone’s expectations of Christmas well in advance. That way you can deal with any difficult demands and make compromises that suit everyone.

If you’re worried about the cost of Christmas you could also set some spending limits for gifts or come up with ideas for presents that don’t need to be bought; for example washing the car or making someone breakfast in bed. It’s important to be honest with yourself and your children about your finances, how much you can afford for presents, food and decorations. Remember that although the media may try to make you believe that the more you spend the better the parent you are for your children, the reality is that the time you spend with them is more important.

  1. Communicate plans clearly and don’t be afraid to say no.

As well as talking to your family about what they want to happen at Christmas be honest about what you want to do too. If you want to turn something down, explain why you don’t want to do it, and have a suggestion ready for an alternative. For example instead of taking on all the cooking you could suggest a ‘bring and share’ meal so that everyone takes a share of the work.

If you are co-parenting, try to negotiate the best arrangements for your children. They have two parents and spending time with each of them is important.

  1. Avoid conflict.

If you’re worried your guests might not get on, go for a walk in the afternoon to break things up a little. This gives everyone the chance to chat to someone different, or even to stay at home if tension is building. Equally, you can always ask a guest to make drinks, or help out with the kids in order to break up any potential conflict. If you know certain people don’t get on, speak to them beforehand and explain how important to you it is to have a harmonious day.

4. It’s about the children…

Make the most of precious time with children during the holiday. This could be time together playing games, watching a film or going out for walks. Remember that time with children needn’t cost money. It is also vital to spend regular time with each child. Quality one-on-one time is usually the medicine that’s needed when things become chaotic or out of balance in the family. At Fegans, we call this ‘Special Time’. This time lets a child know that they are valued and important, allows them the space to talk about things that are important to them and helps parents to get to know and understand each of their children uniquely, and without assumptions.

Christmas Day can whizz by in a festive blur without you so much as sniffing a glass of fizz or pulling a cracker because you’re frantically trying to make everything perfect for everyone else. Remember that it’s your Christmas too and you should be able to enjoy it. Make a (flexible) timetable for the day so that there are regular times when you can sit down and talk with evertyone or play with the children. Look after yourself and your family.

For more parenting advice including articles on co-parenting through separation, creating precious time and reducing family stress, visit

Happy Christmas!