Holiday Grief From COVID Chaos: A Pep Talk

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Show Notes

What if your kids are freaking out that they can’t celebrate their December holidays in the usual way this year? What if you are? Parents have an exceptional burden this year trying to make magic when they probably don’t feel it. How do you manage the disappointment everyone feels and find inspiration to make the best of a situation this December?

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Episode Transcript

Robin Hutson  0:01 

What if your kids are freaking out that they can’t celebrate their December holidays in the usual way this year? What if you are? Parents have an exceptional burden this year trying to make magic when they probably don’t feel it. How do you manage the disappointment everyone feels and find inspiration to make the best of a situation this December?

We’ll answer that question in this week’s episode of Flusterclux with Lynn Lyons, the show for real talk about worry and other big feelings in parenting.

Lynn Lyons 

Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m an anxiety expert, speaker, Mom and author. I’ve been a therapist for 30 years.

Robin Hutson  0:35 

You’re here because your family has some anxiety issues, or you want to prevent them. I’m your co-host, and Lynne sister in law Robin, and

Lynn Lyons  0:41 

I’m here to ask your questions. Parenting can be a fluster clucks. And I’ll help you find your way. Everybody is talking about how we’re going to handle the holidays this year, because it’s going to be different.

What we thought would be most helpful is to take specific questions that parents are asking about what to do with the anxieties, the sadness, the fears, all the stuff that might be going on in your family during the holidays,

Robin Hutson  1:09 

And the difficult relatives.

Lynn Lyons  1:11 

And the difficult relatives. I didn’t mean you. We got great questions. And I think that the questions are so relevant to a lot of the things that people are feeling right now. So

Whatever December holiday you may or may not celebrate, we hope that it’s still relevant to you and your family.


Robin Hutson  1:30 

Okay, Lynn, I have your first question.

Lynn Lyons  1:32 

All right, I’m ready.

Robin Hutson  1:33 

How do I keep Christmas traditions alive in a time of COVID? I bought my grandfather’s house 11 years ago, and since then, have hosted Christmas Eve with traditions that go back to my childhood, like singing carols. $1 scratch tickets for all kids and gathering loved ones.

Then on Christmas Day, we go to two aunts where we continue traditions like homemade ravioli cheese, and a crazy gift exchange for all the kids. My kids are teens, and though they don’t express it often I know that they like the traditions we have made and see them as part of our story.

But the problem is that in this time of COVID, we cannot gather as we once did. And I’m struggling with seeing how we can have much joy over Christmas zoom just isn’t the same thing as all gatherings in one room and seeing cousins we only see once a year is such a treat. I’m also afraid that skipping one year will lead to a family members creating their own traditions and not continuing the ones I’ve grown to love. Can you tell I hate change?

Lynn Lyons  2:26 

Yes. Oh, so I think so many people are experiencing this right. But I think the thing that stands out in this question for me the most is the fear that the traditions will be lost because they aren’t going to happen this year. And a I think it sounds like based on these years of tradition and how important all of this is. And it’s happening in your grandfather’s house and how wonderful it sounds.

The other thing is, as Robin was reading this question, I was like, Okay, I’m not gonna go to Robin’s house for Christmas, I’ll come to your house for Christmas. It sounds so nice. Just kidding, you, can come, too, Robin. Let’s just all go to this house for Christmas.

But it just sounds lovely. And it sounds like you’ve created this wonderful time of getting together this year is going to be different; it’s going to be hard. I think that you might want to say out loud to your family members, maybe not to your kids, you can say to your kids to but even to your aunts into your siblings into the cousins is that this is going to be a hiatus from this. And that we’re all going to look forward to when we can get back together again and do it.

It’s sort of like the way that I’m thinking about our July 4 celebration, because we have this big that sort of our big family gets together. And we couldn’t do it this year. But I think all of us have every intention of doing it next year. And that we’re already talking about how we are going to make it incredible that we’ve got all this excitement in this energy saved up.

So, say that out loud to your family members that this is going to be a break, this is going to be a hiatus but then you’re going to get back together again. And maybe there’ll be some things that shift and change when you get back together again.

But man, you don’t have to give up your dollar scratch cards. You don’t have to give up your homemade ravioli. And really, maybe even writing those things down or writing a letter to all of your family members or an email that you just sort of talk about this and how much you look forward to all of these things and how it’s going to be hard to let them go for this year. But how wonderful it’s going to be to get back together next year.

The reality of it is that even though we like to think that holiday traditions and holiday rituals stay the same forever and ever, there are probably changes that have happened in this family over the years that you maybe haven’t really noticed or maybe you’ve missed them but you’ve replaced them with other things just because of the changing composition of the family because some kids are getting married and then they’re spending the holiday with their new spouse or whatever.

So, the idea that your holidays have been exactly the same for years and years and years, maybe broadly, that’s true, but not entirely. So, you’re more capable of change, probably than you think. And being able to recognize that there is an ebb and flow to the changing in families of people coming and going, that we’re often saying goodbye to things that have sort of have to go away for some reason, or we’re saying hello to new family members coming in new babies being born. It really is much more fluid.

Robin Hutson  5:36 

Have you ever attended a Seder?

Lynn Lyons  5:37 

No, I’ve never attended a Seder.

Robin Hutson  5:39 

Neither of us are Jewish. But the Seder has one of the most beautiful elements of family tradition that speaks to what you say. Where there is— I apologize if I get this wrong, because I’ve only attended one Seder— But there is a Haggadah, I think, is what it’s called. That is like a script that the family says to one another at their Seder table on Passover.

And what’s very cool is that there are certain lines that are spoken by the eldest member of the family, or the eldest woman or the youngest, that shows the dynamic shift of a family over generations, that the roles would change. I thought that that holiday was such a beautiful way to show how the family grows.

Lynn Lyons  6:25 

Yeah, yeah, that’s lovely.

So, I happen to reach out to this listener and asked everyone where they lived. Because what I wanted to know was if they were within a drivable distance, within our COVID time, even if you can’t leave your bubble and enter theirs, both of the aunts live near the family.

Robin Hutson  6:46 

And I think that there is a way to reach out to them and still drive by in their front yard, singing, do a dance, bring a crazy gift, have the aunts ready with ravioli? Or have the aunts ready with crazy gifts as well.

So that if we lower the bar for what kind of connection we have when we gather in terms of time, but we still get to see each other, and we still prepare and make the anticipation of doing a drive by and waving from the driveway or singing songs together. It is just all about the connection. And enough to just let go of all of the other expectations, and ways that we want it to look like that are beyond our control.

Lynn Lyons  7:29 

Right. Yeah, I love that idea. That’s so nice that you reached out and found that out. I didn’t know that you did that.

Robin Hutson  7:35 

Well, just trying to problem solve.

Lynn Lyons  7:38 

Yeah, no, I think that’s I think that’s a that’s a really wonderful sentiment,

For the cousins. I don’t know what all the ages are, but the cousins, and even if they can’t be together, because I think I read that the cousins, she told me that the cousins were further off in Connecticut and their families in the Boston area. I appreciate that.

Robin Hutson  7:55 

So that was a little too far to do this kind of thing that they could still do with the aunts. But for the cousins, do you remember what we did with our cousins with Lynn’s sons, we did a really nerdy May the fourth be with you Star Wars video together with our cousins in Connecticut.

And so, everyone made a film and then on zoom or sent it, and then one person edited this silly film for everyone to enjoy. That was a lot of fun. And even though, you know, my kids weren’t necessarily with your kids, when they were performing these zoom skits in the same room, that was still a great memory that all the cousins had together.

Lynn Lyons  8:33 

That’s right. And I think what you’re saying in terms of the anticipation and the preparation, that’s what’s a fun part of this for families to write. It’s all the things that you do anticipating it and get ready getting ready for it.

And I think that when we think about how we can create connection and all these different ways, it allows us to anticipate what the connection is going to be like, like when we were making our silly videos for this thing that we did, we had so much fun preparing them, and then the anticipation of everybody watching them and seeing what everybody else did was so much fun. So, I think if we can have a little bit of positive anticipation, because we’re creating some sort of fun connection, I think that really helps too.

The other thing is we also do a crazy gift exchange. But how your family could do it is instead of doing it more of like the Yankee swap tradition that we would do, yeah. Instead, everyone mails a package to a different family household where the gag gifts are pre-selected and identified for the opener.

Robin Hutson  9:42 

Yeah, so then everyone gets to open their gag gifts on a family zoom call, and I’m sure there’ll be some inside jokes or whatever, because you’ve chosen the gag gift specifically for the recipient. Yeah. And then everyone could do that online together.

Lynn Lyons  9:54 

Which reminds me I was doing a talk last night for parents of little kids and One of the things that I suggested was right now with kids, particularly if people are needing to go remote again, and a lot of schools are closing down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s or into January was that go to the store and get a box of note cards or a box of postcards.

And if you have a relative that’s about the same age, they’ll say, you’ve got a seven year old, who’s got an eight year old cousin, every day, the kids write a little note, or they draw a picture or even get a bunch of stickers. So, say you are my eight year old cousin, Robin, every day, I would write a little postcard to you and I would mail it to you.

And every day, you would write a little postcard to me and mail it to me, which means that every day for a period of time, you and I both get a postcard in the mail from the cousin that we’re not able to see, I thought well, that would be a fun, you know, sort of like an advent calendar.

But you go to the mailbox and you get a little treat, you get a little something from a cousin, you’re not going to be able to see over the holiday. And then maybe it ends with each of you sending the Christmas gift that you then open on Christmas morning. But just a little thing I was talking about in a webinar yesterday for parents of trying to feel how do we you know; our cousins can’t see each other? What do we do?

I love that. The other one thing we did as a family early in the pandemic is remember how we played the game on zoom, where it was like two truths and a lie. That was very fun to play with each other, too.

That is a fun game to play with each other.

Especially for the cousins, you know, that’s another, depending on the cousin ages.


Robin Hutson  11:29 

But you know, it’s just all about focusing on the positive focusing on the connection that we can have. And you know, there are people who were also experiencing a holiday and grieving for relatives that they like this year too, which is very, very, very tough, right? And we have to just be gentle and work with what we’ve got.

Lynn Lyons  11:48 

We’ve got to be able to feel both right so we can focus on the positive and we can be creative and think about the memories we’re creating for our family and what are we going to do to manage this in a way that creates connection and then we’ve also got to make room when our kids say like I’m sad that we’re not going to be able to do this.

Be careful not to then squash that and say you know; you don’t have anything to be sad about or a lot of people have worse off than you do or you should feel lucky. Let them feel both ways. Let them talk about the two sides of this so that they’re able to express their emotions.

Definitely. Well, Lynn, you’ve taught me my two most important pandemic strategies to get through this year which is always say to the kids first “Of course you feel this way.”

That’s right. Is the other one the porta potty?

Robin Hutson  12:35 

We got so much use out of that Porta Potty this summer. I’m telling you.

Lynn Lyons  12:38 

That thing was clutch man.

Robin Hutson  12:40 

Yeah, you had to use it a couple times.

Lynn Lyons  12:42 

I told you. It exceeded expectations if you recall. Totally delightful.

Robin Hutson  12:48 

Yes. My road trip survival. No. The other one was that you can handle it. Yeah, whatever it is, you can handle it. And so yeah, we’ve all got to battle our overwhelm.

Lynn Lyons  12:58 

We do. Break it down into parts, pull up that creativity.

Parents I know. It’s I know you’re weary, pull it up. And you know, it’s sort of what I always say, remember, Joy is contagious, too. And isn’t this supposed to be the time of joy, right? We’re not yet bring it up, show it on your face. be silly, laugh, sing, show your kids what’s possible.

I know that you would say this too. If you are a parent, and you have been so beaten down by everything this year, and you just can’t find it within you go on a walk outside, get out in the sun, even if it’s cold, get some exercise, and then try and tackle how you’re going to handle it creatively.

It’s true and get sleep, please get sleep. It’s so important. It really helps your brain in your body in so many ways.

I don’t know this, but I have that my optimistic nature has really wanted. I know we’re in a very bad state with the pandemic.

Mm hmm.

I know the next six weeks will be really bad, but I’m hoping that it is the bottom and that we start climbing out to some sort of progress.

You could be wrong, but I am choosing to believe that right now.

You know, like we’re doing a lot more like Christmas cookies this year than we would have in the past. We’re baking a lot and we’re focusing on cuddling, setting in, and having a lot of carbs.

So, Cindy Collins is hanging around. Right?

Robin Hutson  14:24 

Right. No one’s gonna know what that means. That’s my children’s name for the part of me that typically doesn’t allow sugar who allows sugar. She’s the missive sugar parent side of me that they don’t see very often, but Cindy Collins is planning our Christmas this year.

Lynn Lyons  14:44 

That’s fabulous. And I’ve been keeping that in mind too, because you know, I can be sort of bah humbug because I depend on you for all the holiday celebration. I’ve got a I’ve got to up my game because I can be bah humbug in my house because I know I’m coming to your house. All right. No, I’m going to my mom’s house in the old days.

Robin Hutson  15:03 

Yeah, cause you’re not coming to my house this year.

Lynn Lyons  15:05 

I know, which is very sad.

Robin Hutson  15:06 

It is.

Lynn Lyons  15:07 

But we’ll get through it, won’t we?

Robin Hutson  15:11 

Lynn, it’s nearly the end of 2020.

Lynn Lyons  15:13 

Are you glad? Yeah, of course, I’m ready for a change. But you know, the impact of 2020 will still be with us.

Robin Hutson  15:19 

You mean on our mental health?

Lynn Lyons  15:20 

Yeah, right. I mean, we want to kick 2020 to the curb, but we have to do the work. First, there’s got to be some personal reflection on the anxious habits and patterns that showed up for us that maybe got way worse.

Robin Hutson  15:31 

Yeah. Well, you’re the one to lead us out of this.

Lynn Lyons  15:34 

I’m excited for my course in January. This workshop will take an audit of the way anxiety showed up in your life this year, and then how to disrupt it in 2021.

Robin Hutson  15:43 

Do you think this is just for adults?

Lynn Lyons  15:45 

Well, we’ll do more later for kids and teens, too. But I see a real need to help the parents first after the year we’ve all had. I want to help them feel bolstered for the New Year

Robin Hutson  15:53 

Sounds like something we all need.

Lynn Lyons  15:55 

When we’re grounded, we can be more helpful for our family.

If you want a reset, sign up for our newsletter at Flusterclux.com to get all the details first.

Robin Hutson

Okay, Lynn, I have another question for you.

Robin Hutson  16:07 

How do you help your kids manage the sadness over the traditions we can’t take part in this holiday season, my youngest in particular, who’s 13. It’s almost like watching her go through the stages of grief as she anticipates what she’ll be missing most.

Lynn Lyons  16:21 

That’s the trick of this holiday season is because it’s not going to be how it usually is for a lot of families. So, when you’re talking mom about your daughter’s stages of grief, yeah, that’s what we’ve been handling is because we’re having to adjust, we’re having to say goodbye to a lot of things, we’re having to not be able to do the traditions or be with the family members that we want to be with.

And so, for your daughter to be saying goodbye to things. And one of the stages of grief right is acceptance. So, she’s probably accepted that things aren’t going to be the same. Maybe she’s doing some bargaining, some negotiating, she’s like, Alright, well, if we can’t do that, then maybe we can still do that. And all of that is really normal. Because she’s working through this.

And I think as a family, you’ve got to talk about this Christmas, or this Hanukkah, or this holiday. I’m just going to say holiday from now on because people celebrate in different ways for different things, this holiday is going to be different. And you need to talk to your daughter about the reality of that she’s 13. She gets it.

This is going to stand out. Right forevermore, we’re going to be talking about the Christmas of 2020. It sort of reminds me when we were little like there was the blizzard of 78. Right. And if you’re in New England, you remember the blizzard of 78 and the ice storm and all of the stories that will come with that.

This just popped into my head as I was falling asleep the other night, I was thinking about how to create holiday traditions that are new, right? Can we have new traditions? Can you have new rituals, because those words actually imply that there are things that we’ve done repeatedly, and we get comfort from them, and we enjoy doing them. But this thing popped into my head the thing we say with weddings, right? Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue.

And I thought can we think about the holidays in that way? That we’re going to incorporate some of the traditions that we can, but can your family come up with something new, that you’re going to fold into this holiday season? That feels delightful that feels interesting, that maybe you wouldn’t have done in the past. Because their traditions that you had before were so satisfying.

But now there’s going to be some missing pieces, they’re going to be some gaps? And what are you going to fill those gaps with? And so maybe even sitting down with your daughter and saying, Okay, so here are the things that we’re going to do that are our family traditions and family rituals, here are the things we can’t do.

So, let’s remove that one. I mean, get it get a bunch of oranges and put them on the counter, right? And we’re going to give her a visual and we’re going to remove this tradition because we can’t do it. What can we put in its place? And let’s think about this as a family. Let’s think about creatively what we can do, because we’re going to make this as special as we can. But we’re going to have some feelings of sadness, of course, we’re going to have some feelings of missing.

As you know, I’m the holiday, you know, hoster in the family, and I get really into holidays. Yeah, this comes to a core principle you’re always talking about, and it’s flexibility and problem solving.

Robin Hutson  19:27 

Right. And so, framing this with let’s think of something that we’ve never done before. That sounds really cool that we can do now. Right? And I would just say that when a parent is able to have these conversations with optimism, and with a smile and with energy, the conversation can go pretty well.

We ended up doing a really different tradition. In the spring we used to celebrate Easter with Easter egg hunts and being out and about and that was when we were much more on a lockdown.

Lynn Lyons  19:59 


Robin Hutson  19:59 

Our family made like a full tea party like scones and sandwiches and all these things. And then we decorated the table. But they said like we should do this every year. And that came from an ability of what are all the things we can do? And what sounds like the most fun.

So, I think that it’s a constant reminder, to emphasize that to emphasize the flexibility to emphasize the new and to make the new exciting. I said to my kids, especially as we’ve laughed about listening to the perfectionism episode and my own personal enthusiasm for holiday decor. I said, this year,

Lynn Lyons  20:40 

Is that going to be the title of your holiday, your holiday coffee table book, Robin, enthusiasm for holiday decor? my coffee table book be called.

Robin Hutson  20:53 

I’m just going to Robin’s house.

Lynn Lyons  20:57 


I said to the kids, like we always have our holiday decorations a certain way. Do you want to this year do something completely different? Do we want to try something completely different that it doesn’t have to be like it always did? It was interesting. We had that conversation. And they said, Hmm, what would that look like? I just sort of threw out some ideas. And then they collectively said like, No, we’ll just kind of do what we always did.

Robin Hutson  21:24 

But because of COVID. We’re putting a huge emphasis on our outdoor decorations this year, and just kind of creating a nice outdoor space in the backyard. So that should we have warm weather, we could have family come by for a hot chocolate outside, things like that.

Lynn Lyons  21:38 

Oh, and that’s a great idea when you think about that, because if you decorate the inside of your house, since people can’t come in your house, nobody’s going to see it. And so, you can’t share it. But if you focus on what you’re doing outside your house, then you’re sharing that with your neighbors. you’re sharing that with people who are driving by I love that idea.

And everyone’s walking now too, right? My son and I have gone on whenever we’ve had a decent day, we’ve gone out with garden chairs, and we’ve been, you know, clipping branches and things so that we’ve been making outdoor, you know, arrangements. Yeah. And that’s been really fun. Yeah. So that’s a new tradition that we hadn’t done before. I think that it’s really Unfortunately, the burden is on the moms of the household to really drive this from a place of optimism.

One of the things too, that I’ve been thinking about and talking about is we’re tired, right? We’re weary? Yeah, it’s sort of like we’re like, oh my gosh, right? It’s dark. But a lot of times the adults are going to miss their adult time.

Like, you know, maybe you actually looked forward to your neighbor’s holiday Christmas party, or my friend Christine used to have this cookie swap, which was just such a treat in the middle of the day that you would get together and swap cookies. And so, I think adults have to recognize that they’re going to miss out on probably some of the adult stuff that they really look forward to, we always say like, oh, Christmas is for the children.

But it really can be such a nice, social way in a way to connect with other adults. And that’s going to be gone too, which makes this even a little harder for us. But I think mom’s I think you’re right, Robin, I think mom’s got to bring it. And we got to dig deep and be creative and look at ideas that other people are doing talk to your friends come up with things that you can do that feel a little unique or a little fun, but they’re going to be looking at us. As usual. As I always say, they’re looking at our faces, to see how they’re supposed to react and handle things. We got to bring it.

This is such a crazy time for someone who loves putting on holiday music on November 1st.

You do? On November 1st?

I love it. Yeah, I’m absolutely one of those people. I am like the elf from you know, I’m the Will Ferrell meme. I just love everything about the holiday season. However,

I’m just learning about this now.

Really. But given that it’s 2020. I’ve had a couple days just in the last two weeks where I’ve even questioned do I want to get a tree? You know, everything. There’s just so much going on. Yeah. So, my other piece of advice for those who have to really carry the whole family with this, be gentle with yourself. And if you really don’t feel it, you might feel it another day. But like it’s okay to not feel it too.

Yeah. Well, and that’s sort of letting this 13 year old feel both ways at once. Right. So, going back to this concept of both, which I think we talked about, in one of our first episodes when this was all just hitting is that you can feel, you know, kids were feeling both relieved that they didn’t have to go to school because it was so tiring and feeling really upset that they couldn’t see their friends.

Parents were feeling both excited that they were going to have more time with their kids that were home from college and really disappointed that their kids were home from college. And so, I think this 13 year old we want to talk to her about both She can feel both sad that she’s going to miss out on the traditions that are really important to her this year.

Remember, we want to talk about this in a temporary way. This is not going to be like this next Christmas. It’s not it’s not it’s not. She can also look forward to and enjoy creating and problem solving and engaging in some nutrient additions.

And also, Mom, I think you should just get her a puppy. Just get her a puppy. Right? I mean, everybody just gets your kid a puppy.

Well, it’s interesting, when you think of the second episode we ever did, it was all about managing disappointment of everything happening and everything getting canceled at the end of the school year and what the summer would look like. Yep.

Robin Hutson  25:41 

And I think that one of the key points of that, for me as a parent was to say, at that time to my kids, something outside in the world is happening. That’s way bigger than us. Yeah, that we have to respond to and be flexible with. Yep. But here we are, how many months later, where we’ve had to be adaptable and flexible. For so long of everything that we’re missing. There’s probably a point where people are just exhausted with that energy.

Lynn Lyons  26:09 

Yeah. So, in my field, we call that compassion fatigue, that you really think about, like, Look, we’re doing this for the sake of other people. We’re doing this because there’s something really big going on, we’re doing this we’re making these sacrifices for the greater good.

And then after a while, you’re just like, really is the greater good, all that good. I mean, we really just get like, Okay, come on Enough already. Yeah. And I think that it’s the hard work. This is we’re hoping with the vaccine coming and with hopefully being able to see big changes coming in the spring. We’re hoping that this is the homestretch and the homestretch unless you’re a pony heading for the barn, the homestretch is hard. It’s really hard.

Right. It’s the transition stage of labor. I’m hoping as well.

Oh, that’s a good analogy, too, too.

Did you ever hear the expression the Ring of Fire?

Robin Hutson  27:00 

Yeah, yeah. I did.

Lynn Lyons  27:04 

Yeah, just like slipping in references to vaginas.

Robin Hutson  27:11 

So, join the Facebook group so that you can ask when your question on an upcoming episode.

And thanks for joining us for another episode of Flusterclux.

Lynn Lyons  27:21 

Bye, Robin!

Robin Hutson  27:22 

 Bye, Lynn!

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