How To Observe Advent As A Special Needs Parent

Christmas is coming and it’s easy to be overwhelmed, especially as a special needs parent. You’ve already got more on your plate than the typical parent, plus all the additional tasks of preparing for Christmas. But it is possible to slow down, observe Advent, and enjoy a Christmas focused on Christ, without becoming frazzled or stressed out.

First, what is Advent?

Beginning the Church’s liturgical year, Advent (from, “ad-venire” in Latin or “to come to”) is the season encompassing the four Sundays (and weekdays) leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and to the anniversary of Our Lord’s birth on Christmas. … Like Lent, the liturgical color for Advent is purple since both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days. Advent also includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting, and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
selective focus of purple candle
Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

If you follow any of the big Catholic bloggers, YouTubers or influencers, you’re probably aware of all the various books, crafts, food, and more you can, and maybe feel like, you should be doing this Advent. And while using Advent as a time of prayer, fasting, and penance filled with family activities can be great, it can also seem like one more thing on an already long to-do list, especially given the unique needs of your child. If you want to observe Advent without the overwhelm, here are three tips that have worked for my family.

First, keep it simple! Pick one thing you’d like to do as a family this Advent. Maybe it’s light an Advent wreath and sing a song each evening after dinner. Maybe you all go shopping together to buy gifts for a family in need. Or maybe you use a book, like The Jesse Tree for Families, and hang ornaments representing Christ’s family tree each night. A lot of families have their children fill a manager with pieces of straw each time they do a good deed during Advent. There’s lots of things you can do, the point is to pick just one tradition best suited to your child’s age and abilities. It’s easy to look at other families with lots of traditions, and feel like we should do more. But this Advent, say no to comparison and yes to simplicity! Pick one tradition, do it with love, and know that it’s enough.

Two; simplify your Christmas preparation and be deliberate in what you choose to do. Cut back on decorating, cut back on over-stimulating parties and family visits, and cut back on shopping. If people question your actions, just say the holidays were becoming too overwhelming and you needed to scale back for your sanity and the well being of your children. Instead of baking dozens of cookies for a swap, make one or two of your family’s favorites and stop, or buy your cookies from a bakery! If you really miss the camaraderie of the swap, go back next year. Buy a limited number of presents, and stick to a theme (like one book, one toy, one item of clothing) to make shopping easier. Reduce the number of christmas cards you send out, or don’t sent them at all! You can always send a card next year. We tend to get stuck doing the same things every year without stopping to ask if they’re working for our family anymore. Maybe no one really wants to go and cut down the tree; why drag everyone out and risk a tantrum? Go yourself, enjoy the quiet car ride and know that, in the future, you may be able to make it a family tradition again. Every year you can make a conscious decision on what traditions to undertake.

Three, make Advent a time for you to rest and recharge. If you’re less stressed, chances are your children will be less stressed and able to enjoy the holidays more as well. It will help if you follow step two and scale back, but also allow yourself moments of quiet. Commit to five minutes of silence, without your phone, everyday. Say a quick prayer of thanks, and simply meditate on the upcoming Nativity. If you feel up to taking on a larger spiritual challenge, such as a whole rosary or devotional readings, that’s great! However so many of us special needs parents are so frazzled, the thought of taking on a new extensive prayer routine can seem daunting, or if we start, we quickly get sidetracked and feel like a failure. This Advent, start small. Five minutes of quiet. You can also think about other ways to prioritize rest. So much of December can feel like a mad dash to Christmas. Resist the rush! Rather than a holiday party, maybe a cozy family movie night, or drive around with soft music playing and look at Christmas lights. Start your child’s bedtime routine a bit earlier and go to bed earlier yourself to grab some extra sleep.

That’s it! Pick one family Advent activity, scale back the Christmas prep, and focus on rest for your physical and spiritual health. By scaling back and doing what works best for your family, right now, you can arrive at Christmas ready to celebrate rather than collapse. What tips would you add? Be sure to share them in the comments below.

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