Kid Thuggery & Other Holiday Happiness Stealers

Tree trimmed, presents mostly wrapped and stashed behind the couch, shopping list for Christmas dinner growing, and your child or grandchild’s behavior suddenly excels past naughty to out-of-control.


Do you destroy all hope for a ‘calm and bright’ holiday by grounding them, cancelling favorite events like winter prom, solstice party, or a trip to see Santa?

Do you shutdown the family vacation plans? Un-invite the rest of your adult kids and their kids?  Or do you try to muddle through?

None of the above.  You handle misbehaviors with consequences that relate to their actions–not to family traditions and once-a-year (or once-a-life-time) events.

Anxiety, Fear, Bitterness, Anger.

Realize that kids’ stress levels, regardless if toddler or teen, rise with special events due to past experiences involving their mom and/or dad and gets tangled up what they see and hear in media.  The Hallmark channel of eternal good endings. Also, recognize that while other kids at school are talking about presents, trips and fun, they may be remembering domestic violence, passed out parents, a police person at their door, or prison visits.  They want, as my own adopted grandson Chad said when he was in his early twenties, “…just a few happy memories with my mom.” Or they may want a few happy memories without their mom.


We all need to feel in control of our lives.  They can’t control their past, or their parents–whether they are currently in or out of their lives–so they try to protect themselves from further hurt subconsciously by acting out.  They try to force you into becoming ‘the bad guy’ so, in the crazy way immature brains process, they can prevent anticipated let downs and/or keep mom or dad safely in a fictional role where they are the victim rather than the problem. They reason, “nothing good ever happens to me,” so they do their best to make sure it doesn’t.

Don’t buy in.  Refuse to take away opportunities for family and fun.  Don’t reinforce their faulty thinking and ultimately make your life harder.   After all, you end up in house arrest with them, and often take the brunt of their mounting frustration and anger.  

Instead, give consequences that counteract bad behaviors.  If it expands their awareness of others’ feelings so much the better.  For example, if they hit their brother then have them read their brother a bedtime story about bullying.  If they put their fist through a wall, they repair it right alongside you, or they earn the money doing chores to pay to have it repaired.  Keep the consequence duration, and the talk time preceding it, as short and focused as possible.  

Then go do something else that will limit their opportunity to disengage, or ramp-up their anger, further.  If they like sports then sign them up for a Parks & Recreation martial arts class or get them involved in youth hockey.  Suggest they invite a friend and drive them to a comic book store, a favorite band concert, or together paint pottery. Engage them in what interest them, not you.

The holiday you save will be your own.  The future you invest in is joint-owned.



Handling Holidays When Raising Grandkids


IMG_2974Holidays happen year round so keep reminding yourself that you need to be in control. Children, and you, deserve safe, fun, faith-filled (if faith is part of your family’s traditions) holidays. Youngsters need memories of peaceful, happy days to know what is possible.  They need to experience ‘normal’ so they can pass ‘normal’ on when they parent.  So make it happen. 

A using addict or alcoholic should not be invited and/or allowed at family (meaning with you, their kids, or other family members) events.  If you are under court order–then keep their participation separate.  Schedule it at another time, place, and preferably day other than when traditionally celebrated.


Let your children or grandchildren you are raising help with the planning for all events that you and sober family members attend.  Give them areas of responsibility where they can shine…let one be in-charge of taking pictures of everyone, another sending out evites or mailed invitations, etc.

Try something different.  If you routinely open gifts on Christmas Eve then do it Christmas Day, go out of town, swap houses with another local family for the week, or have another family member host…just don’t sit and revisit bad memories.

Help someone else.  Volunteer at the school to paint faces if they are holding a fall festival.  Take the family to a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and do whatever chores are needed.  Ask someone, who you know will be alone, to come Trick or Treating with you just to change things up.


Thoughts to keep you sane:

  • Hosting ‘alcohol free’ family events does not keep the alcoholic from drinking. They will arrive under the influence or stash away a supply in your home, their car, the bushes or “pop out for a cigarette or air” and head to the nearest store.
  • No one likes to think of their son, daughter or partner alone on a holiday, but they make it the other 364 days a year, and to someone with an addiction problem everyday of the year holds the same risks of overdose or other things that you can’t control. Only the user can do the things that will help them get, and stay, sober.
  • If the biological parent is typically a ‘no show’ don’t mention to smaller children that their parent is coming for any holiday interactions regardless of where or when it’s being held.  As they get older, discuss before hand the probability that the parent won’t show, they’ll be late or using, or things won’t be so good. Together come up with an alternative plan to get you and the children out of the house and doing something fun.  Don’t reschedule if mom or dad is a ‘no show’ or so late that you have moved on to Plan B, and don’t forget to keep a written log of incidents to share with your caseworker, or the judge, if needed in the future.