Care and Feeding

The Christmas Comedown Can Be Brutal

How to help a kid who’s so revved up for Christmas that the day after is a nightmare.

A glum-looking child wearing a Santa hat.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My youngest daughter, who’s 9, has a strong tendency to crash and burn after big fun events (birthdays, holidays, trips, etc.) and a really tough time resuming “normal” life. Having finally figured out the pattern, any advice on how to soften her recovery from Christmas this year?

—Reality Bites

Dear Reality Bites,

Ah, yes, Christmas and MDMA are so similar in this respect: The comedown is tough. I recommend tapering a bit: Boxing Day (Dec. 26) is not a “thing” in the U.S. like it is in Canada, but there’s no reason you can’t make it a little special with a new tradition or two, like going for a family walk in the snow, cooking a particularly loved meal, maybe taking a trip to the bookstore. Nothing splashy or expensive, just something nice and comforting. Staying busy over the next few days will help a lot and will keep her new toys and books feel fresher longer.

There is also a Berenstain Bears book called Too Much Birthday that describes this feeling in great detail, if you think it might help her to talk about it? You know her best!

Merry Christmas and happy Boxing Day.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m expecting our first baby in late spring, and my husband has been … a nightmare. Not in terms of being cruel to me—he’s just hyperfocused on me having the “perfect” pregnancy in a way that makes me feel like a test tube. He’s obsessed with what I’m eating, whether I’ve had enough protein, what my iron levels are like, if there are parabens in my shampoo. I’m glad we don’t have cats, or I’m sure he’d be trying to boot them outside until after I give birth.

I’ve talked about this with him several times, and he either brushes me off or makes me feel like I’m not taking this pregnancy seriously enough. How can I convince him to back off? He’s not usually an anxious or controlling person.

—People Have Been Doing This for Millions of Years!

Dear PHBDTfMoY,

Well, the bad news is that this sounds really aggravating and condescending. The good news is that I think there’s a lot of hope for the situation.

Please immediately buy him a copy of Emily Oster’s Expecting Better, which is the best “chill out a little!” book on the market and exhaustively researched. It’s helped a lot of pregnant people filter out which recommendations are really vital and which are extremely weakly correlated with better outcomes but have endured because of fear. This may not do more than smooth off some of his edges, but it’s a good start.

The next thing I want you to do is put him on an information diet. You do not have to tell him your daily food diary! He’s just going to spin his wheels with it. Let him see you pop your prenatal vitamin in the morning, and then if he asks what you ate today, a bland “oh, plenty” will have to be enough for him. You can tell him politely that you’re committed to having a healthy baby and are following your OB-GYN’s or midwife’s instructions—and pestering you like this is making you stressed out, which is bad for the baby.

The other piece of the puzzle is to figure out where this is coming from. The nonpregnant partner often feels very disconnected from the pregnancy and can respond by either withdrawing or by getting way too involved. You need to find ways for him to feel involved that won’t make you hide in the basement to get a moment’s peace. Have him research packing the hospital bag, take an infant CPR class, find a good pediatrician! He can absolutely burn off some of this excess concern in a way that can help all three of you.

I think this will be enough, since you report this is very out-of-character for him, but if the strategies outlined here come up short, you know I’m going to have to pack you off to couples counseling. Stress is bad for the baby!

Keep me posted.

If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, click here to read it.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are very happily married, and we have two beautiful children, an 11-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. Both of our kids are pretty quiet “indoors” types, who primarily enjoy books and toy horses and model trains. They like romping in the leaves in the fall, but mostly they’re like me, homebodies who are prone to tripping over their own feet.

Well, my husband is desperate to teach our son to ride a bike. He started nagging him about it early this year and, despite my son having zero interest in the idea, keeps bringing it up. He wants to give our son a bike for Christmas to force the issue, which I think is a guilt trip and a really bad idea. Here’s the thing that bugs me: Our daughter never cared about learning to ride a bike either, and he’s never said a single word about it!

How do I get him to back off?

—The Great Indoors

Dear TGI,

Ah, some of the sharpest lessons of parenthood come in the moments we discover that we’ve been carrying around dreams for our experience of parenting that just don’t jibe with the reality of the child we actually have! I’m guessing “teach my son to ride a bike” has been kicking around your husband’s parenting list since (or before) your children were born. The fact he didn’t get his feathers ruffled when your daughter didn’t want to learn to ride a bike is probably a mixture of unconscious gender expectations and the realization that both of his kids are indoor types like their mother, and this is his last shot to get a more rugged little companion for the sorts of activities he always wanted to share with them.

I think you need to sit down with your husband and talk about this today, Christmas Eve, before anyone unwraps a large and unwieldy package on Christmas morning. If he gets him a bike, he gets him a bike, but it’d be really unfair for him to expect your son to perform a ton of excited gratitude over a present he’s been very clear he has zero interest in. “This bike is for you to learn to ride when you’re ready” is a better tack to take.

Outdoorsy parents of indoorsy kids are not doomed to a life of sad solo ice fishing while their children sit on the couch. He needs to do the work and find experiences to share with them that they will cherish, and those should be drawn from their interests as well as his. Maybe he bonds more by doing things together in general, so a board game or a science experiment kit or a foosball table might do the trick. To get the kids outside more (and focus on both kids, please), try geocaching together or a museum trip. Nature walks where you check off birds or bugs. Something that he can accomplish with his children that will bring everyone pleasure.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is terrified of Schoolhouse Rock. I don’t know why. I’ve certainly asked. His cousin is a nerd and always wants to watch it on YouTube when he comes to hang out, but my son doesn’t want to. He’s 12! It’s not like this is some kind of massive disappointment to me or anything, but should I encourage him to push through this? I do feel embarrassed by it, and I feel bad that I’m embarrassed. I know it doesn’t mean he’s weak. He enjoys lots of things other kids find “scary.” This is just a bizarre outlier.

—Amendment to Be

Dear Amendment,

This is a new one! Perhaps he had a particularly terrifying nightmare about a talking bill or a pileup at Conjunction Junction.

Look, kids get weirded out by really random things. A perfectly pleasant actor’s face! Balloons! Schoolhouse Rock just happens to be his. The good news here is that Schoolhouse Rock, especially in 2018, is not a necessary building block for human civilization. He will not be ostracized in college for failing to be a Schoolhouse Rock completist.

Tell your nephew to pick something else, keep the mood light, and keep it moving. There’s no problem here.*

*Unless he hits civics class in a few years and becomes emotionally unglued as a result.

—Nicole