Dear Carolyn: My children have turned me into a grinch! I used to like the holidays. Still do, mostly. But the disruption in routines, and extra sugar, mean days of crazy, rambunctious, cranky kids after the big day is over. We're not going really crazy or over the top. So how do I sit back, relax and let the kids enjoy candy in their stockings without dreading the days of tantrums when the family goes home, and the routine sets back in?

— Grinch

Grinch: Routines .?.?. remember those? (This is adapted from a last-Christmas chat.)

The misery of disrupted routines is an under-talked-about problem, in my opinion. Holidays were some of our most stressful and difficult times as a family when our kids were little, and don’t even get me started on changes for Daylight Savings. Utterly gratuitous hell.

The only thing that seemed to help was being less ambitious in our holiday plans and more physically active; the “sit back, relax” option usually led to the most colorful emotional unravelings. Letting go is fine when applied to the idea of not micromanaging the candy intake, but I think you need to balance that out by getting ahead of the meltdowns and getting everyone out for a hike or into a gym/rink/play space/climbing structure or whatever you can manage, given covid and holiday closures.

It’s more planning when you’re already fried, but it’s usually well worth it. I actually learned this from an animal-behavior specialist called in to help with a problem dog, well before I ever had kids: “A tired dog is a happy dog.” Physically tired from playing hard, not overstimulated-and-stuck-inside-for-hours tired. Key distinction.

Dear Carolyn: So, my only brother and his girlfriend announced in August they're expecting a baby. Yahoo! My parents and I were so excited, a new little person to love. Although behind the scenes, my mom did a bit of hand-wringing about the instability of their relationship — not living together, not even dating for all that long. I was more optimistic and excited to support them in the building of their family.

But Mom was right. Apparently they've had a bunch of horrible fights and now they're breaking up. The girlfriend is moving back to her hometown, 120 miles away, to be near her family for support. I am so disappointed. I was really excited to become an aunt, and now that is slipping away. I don't have an independent relationship with the baby's mom, and my brother is too upset to help facilitate one. So now what?

— Long-Distance Auntie

Long-Distance Auntie: So now, nothing, except adjusting to the new circumstances.

You will still be an aunt, only 120 miles away — plus, presumably, your brother will share custody? So the only thing “slipping away” is the beta version of your imagined auntie role. New version: When the child is with Daddy (and when it’s safe to), a lovingly invested auntie can be there helping out.

If I’m wrong about custody, then it’ll be tougher, but you’d still be an auntie. Once emotions settle, get in touch with the baby’s mom to let her know you care and you would like to be available to her and the child, if they’re willing. Be respectful and follow her lead.

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