Holiday Survival Guide


Holiday Survival Guide

Holidays! The most stressful wonderful time of the year! When you are a family caregiver, the intensity of the holidays is often ratcheted up. On top of your already packed schedule, on top of your already stretched thin nerves, on top of your already over-the-top caffeine habit, you need to turn on the cheer and the charm and spend even more time with and caring for family. We hope the magic of the day, or the season, will give us a boost, but that’s not always the case.

For caregivers who live with their elderly parents, the holidays can feel like a broken promise. There’s no rest for a live-in caregiver!

For caregivers who live by but not with their parents, the holidays can pose logistical challenges, like how to get Dad up the front stairs or how to plan a family gathering around the assisted living or skilled nursing facility schedule.

For long-distance caregivers, the holidays can be an eye opener that Mom and Dad are declining and you can’t resolve everything you may want to during your trip home.

And all caregivers deal with some level of grieving – if not for family members who have passed away then for years past when their parents were younger and healthier.

And for the winter holidays, there are decorations and wrappings, turkeys and traditions, and oh so much togetherness!

But don’t fret! We’ve got you covered with our Caregiver Holiday Survival Guide!

7 Holiday Rules for Caregivers

Lower your standards.

You work hard all year. You don’t need to prove anything today. So what that the house is a little messy or the dinner is overcooked or your Dad fell asleep before dinner? All of that pales in comparison to the minor miracles you perform all year long as a working daughter.

Lower your expectations.

Now go a little bit lower. For years I was ruined by the images of Christmas in the Jordan Marsh catalogue. That’s what a family gathering was supposed to look like, right? Velvet dresses, china plates, and a happy (blond) family singing carols around a baby grand. Well guess what? Jordan Marsh went bankrupt! If you can enter the day with no expectation of how it should be, you will avoid disappointment. You might even be pleasantly surprised.

Practice Gratitude.

Something’s good; focus on it.  If you spend the day thinking about the fact you are not dressed in velvet (in fact you are dressed in a polyblend), your plates are not china (they are chipped), you are not blonde, and you don’t have a piano (you have iTunes), you won’t notice that this group of non-blonde, unmusical characters you’re celebrating with, actually make you feel at home.

woman in santa hat vacuuming

It’s just a day on a calendar.

If you think about it, holidays are just arbitrary days that Hallmark printed on their calendars. Print is dead! So don’t put so much pressure on yourself to make this one day so meaningful. You can celebrate, worship, or observe any day of the year.

Create a private holiday ritual.

 5 minutes or 5 hours, it doesn’t matter. If holidays feel more like work and obligation than celebration, try to carve out a little time just for you. Whether it’s five minutes of meditation, a long walk in the morning, or a few hours at the movie theatre by yourself after the guests finally leave, do it! You deserve a little fun today.

Bring your sense of humor.

You will need it. Because if you don’t laugh, you might cry.

2022 calendar


  1. Mail: Are your parents losing their handle on their bills? Is their mail piling up unopened? Do they seem susceptible to offers in junk mail? A simple fix is to offer to help with bill paying and, if they are willing, to redirect their mail to your address. But is there a deeper issue with their cognitive ability? It may be time for a cognitive assessment.
  2. Falls: According to the Center for Disease Control, at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures every year. And many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling causing them to cut down on their everyday activities. If your parents experience a fall it may be time for a cane or walker. If your parents are going to remain at home, evaluate their residence for trip hazards like area rugs and retrofit the bathroom with anti-slip materials and grip bars in the shower. Get a medical evaluation to check for any trauma resulting from the fall and to see if any underlying medical issues caused it.
  3. Food: Have your parents stopped cooking? Is the fridge full of expired food? The kitchen can be an excellent indicator that mom and dad may need more support. Meals on Wheels may be an option or maybe your parents would benefit from a home health aide to prepare a few meals a week. Maybe they’d love the idea of assisted living where they can get three meals prepared for them each day. You won’t know unless you ask.
  4. Forgetting: Is your parent forgetting family member’s names or getting lost while traveling familiar routes? Have they left a burner on after cooking? While we often want to dismiss forgetfulness as just “old age,” it’s wise to have your forgetful parent assessed for cognitive issues.  Have you noticed your parent’s home or personal appearance has become messier? This may just be a sign that your parent is more easily tired by household chores and could benefit from a housekeeper or a home health aide. But this could also be a sign of something more serious such as depression or dementia. Mention these signs to your parent’s doctor. If you don’t have a relationship with your parent’s doctor and HIPPA prevents the doctor from sharing information with you, ask the doctor if they will at least listen to your input even if they can’t respond to you.
  5. DrivingIf you run errands or go out to dinner while you are visiting your parents, resist the urge to get behind the wheel and let your parent drive. Notice their reaction times, signaling or turning issues, and any hesitation they may show. Are they no longer able or willing to drive at night? It may be time to make some alternative transportation plans for them like a Lyft account, or The Ride.

If you do notice any of these warning signs, ask your parents how they are managing and if they have any concerns. Use open-ended questions like, “How are things going?” and “How are you managing these days?” You want to start a conversation. Don’t start by telling them what they need. Always ask first. Listen intently and acknowledge their feelings and observations. Then you can add your observations or concerns – but be careful not to come across as judgmental or controlling.

It can be difficult to acknowledge that our parents are aging and may need more assistance than they want or than we are prepared to give. But if you notice one or more of the following signs, it’s time to assess your parents’ needs and determine if they need some lifestyle adjustments, additional support, or perhaps, a change in their living situation. Finally, know that you probably can’t find solutions to all of their challenges while you are home for the holidays. Fix what you can while you are there – like moving things to lower shelves or fall-proofing the house. And know that helping your parents as they age is a process.

How To Celebrate the Holidays In a Senior Living Facility

You can celebrate a lovely holiday with your parent who is memory care or a skilled nursing facility if you do these 3 things:

  1. Be open to new traditions and new experiences
  2. Check in with the staff and enlist their help in your celebration.
  3. Keep your parent’s health, preferences and limitations in mind.

Here are some ideas:

Decorate the space:

Decorate your parent’s room with festive decorations, such as holiday lights, ornaments, and seasonal flowers. Make sure to check with the nursing home staff about any restrictions on decorations.

Give memories:

The goal of your celebration is to make new memories. When buying gifts, think about sharing memories. Photo albums, stories, old movies and albums, personalized blankets and old holiday treasures, are all good gift ideas.

Create a holiday playlist:

Make a playlist of your parent’s favorite holiday songs. Play the music during your visit.

hanukah gifts

Join in the community activities:

Check with the staff to learn about any planned holiday events or activities. Coordinate your own activities so they don’t conflict. And if your schedule allows, join in the facility activities with your parent.

Inquire about private dining:

Some facilities have small and private dining rooms so you can bring the extended family for a private, holiday dinner right on site.

Just spend time together:

If none of the above will work, just spend some time together. Listen to music, watch old holiday movies, or flip through family albums. Just be together! That’s really what the holidays are all about.

If This Holiday Is a First

Accept that it will feel different. 

This holiday season won’t feel like all of the others. If you don’t expect it to, it won’t be as jarring. You may feel sad. You may feel empty. You may feel lighter. You may have a great day. You will most likely feel different. All of those options are okay and perfectly normal.

Give yourself permission to start new traditions and skip traditions you’re not feeling this year.

Maybe you can’t host the family gathering this year. Or maybe you won’t be going to Nana’s like you have for years. Maybe your aunt won’t be bringing her signature desert. It’s okay. Every tradition was new once. And traditions change. Grieve for what you’re missing, but try to stay open to what’s new. One year off doesn’t have to mean forever. If you need to take a break from a tradition, you can pick up again the next year – if you want to.

Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.

Maybe you just can’t face the holidays. You don’t have to. No one but you can know what’s best for you. If you need to stay home and binge watch something on Netflix, you can. Honor your feelings. The holidays will return again next year.

Focus on helping someone else.

If you’re feeling sad or lonely or hurt, reach out to someone else who is feeling the same. Take care of them this year. You will feel better.

Practice gratitude.

I believe there is always something good. Look for it. Write it down. Say thanks. Focus on one good thing, and you will find another. And another.

Take it slow.

Honor your feelings. You will be okay. So will everybody else.

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gift wrap