Sure, the holidays can be filled with peace and joy and happiness. But it can also be insanely stressful managing schedules, tempers, a never-ending to-do list and trying to keep up with the irrational expectation that your holiday season should look like a Pottery Barn catalog.
The unspoken pressure that we parents put on ourselves to give our children the perfect Christmas with Facebook-worthy moments can only lead to a let-down at some point. So, how do we keep our sanity while also celebrating the season?
Read on for 10 Tips to stay simple – and stay sane! – this season:
#1. Make a List & Check it Twice
Its easy to get caught up in all the holidays “sales” and deals flying at us – in a barrage of emails, in the signs at the store, the commercials on TV. Have you ever impulse-bought presents just because it seemed like such a great deal (yeah, that’s me raising my hand wildly)?
Try making a list with specific ideas for each person and a spending limit. Here's the trick - keep it in on your phone or someplace handy, so if you get caught up in a tempting situation, you can pull out the list and remember what your spending limit was and what you wanted to get.
Check the list before you purchase anything - just checking it one more time can give me the resolve needed to stick to it. Oftentimes, the stores count on us to grab and go. Our best defense is preparation!
#2. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – No Wrapping Paper Necessary
In theory, it would be awesome to take the time to wrap gifts as you get them. Just take them from the shopping bag into your lovely gift-wrapping room, snip the beautiful paper, tie the perfect ribbon, add a dazzling bow & gift tag and voila! Done & done.
In reality, my “gift-wrapping room” happens to be a section of our basement where I just keep piling up shopping bags until I have time to sit down and go through everything – usually a few days before Christmas.
If you have a mountain of gifts waiting to be wrapped, make it easy on yourself! Hand wrapping all gifts is daunting and makes me one miserable elf after about the fifth package. I keep a stock of bags, boxes and tissue paper on hand for just this reason. Gift bags and decorative gift boxes (tons of cute ones at the dollar store!) look just as enticing as a hand-wrapped gift.
#3. Pretty Paper, Pretty Ribbon & Some Assembly Required
Okay, parents, hear me out on this one. We all know that “some assembly required" is the standard motto for at least one of your kids' toys. Whether it’s a Barbie Dreamhouse or a toy bike – the fun does not begin until each and every piece is accounted for and put together.
I know it’s easier to not think about dealing with the set-up until later. I know it’s far less time now to check it off your list once it’s bought. But, on Christmas morning, after an inevitable longer night than you may have planned, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy Christmas morning?
When you have little ones so excited that Christmas is finally here and just want to get to it right now. . . then the fun can get frustrating as they try to help put something together, while simultaneously losing small pieces, putting stickers where they don’t belong, or asking you a million times if you’re done yet.
Think of your child being able to play with that toy tool bench immediately, or busying themselves with the princess castle without an hour-long wait in-between,while you sip hot cocoa and sit on the couch. Just saying…
#4. Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s Called Routine.
The holidays are hectic – no way around that. There are so many special activities and events that are way out of the norm – think school concerts, holiday parties, seeing Santa, performances, etc. Kids have a lot of unpredictability thrown their way, and they are expected to be smiling and excited for each holiday adventure. It’s not going to happen with a tired, hungry child.
Routines can be hard to keep this season, so we always try to stick to the same wake-up and bedtime routine, and as many wholesome meals as possible. Naptime can get tricky (and sometimes nonexistent) with things going on, but I find if I can start and end the day with something they know and can count on, it gives us all a better chance to stay in that holiday spirit.
#5. Give a Holly-Jolly Heads Up!
Speaking of predictability, I find it makes everything so much smoother (or at least a bit smoother) if I can give my kids a heads-up about what’s happening each day. Letting them know what’s going on that day, and what your expectations are helps prepare everyone.
Something like, “We are going to see Santa today! We need to listen and wait for our turn. If we can’t wait for our turn without whining, then we won’t be able to see Santa.” It at least lets them know what fun is in store for that day, how you want them to behave, and what can happen if they don’t.
It’s not a magic trick and doesn’t mean your children will listen like little angels, but it’s better than just showing up for a holiday activity and hoping it all works out.
#6. All I Want for Christmas is to Avoid the Awkward Present Dilemma
I know this is bound to happen at some point – my eldest is just getting to the point where he’s all about brutal honesty (trust me, I know without a doubt that my last haircut was an epic fail from his point of view).
We all want our kids to have grateful hearts, but gratitude doesn't always just happen. So, I’m already starting the conversations with him about gift-giving and what it means. “When someone gives you a gift, it’s because they like you very much and wanted to give you something fun they thought you would like. No matter what, we always say thank you for the gift." With an emphasis on, "Even if you don’t think you’ll like it, or you already have one at home, we say thank you.” I know other parents who practice role-playing with their kids to try out different responses, too.
#7. We Wish (Your Nuclear Family) a Merry Christmas!
Take time for your nuclear family and do something that makes it special just for all of you. And this also means no multi-tasking! I’m so guilty of trying to always do a million things at once, but this year, I'm trying to find ways to stay in the moment.
Maybe take a drive through a local holiday light show with a thermos of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. Or watch a family holiday movie all together. But - here's the key - with no phones, no one doing laundry or trying to wrap presents at the same time. Try doing at least one activity with all of you in the moment, enjoying each other’s presence and reactions.
#8. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus & It Was About Time!
Holidays are about families, but getting swept up in the crazy schedules can mean time with your partner is often so far down on your list, it never really happens. Before kids, my husband and I had a holiday tradition of dinner and holiday play at the theater. We loved having the time for just us two.
After kids. . .well, we’ve tried to keep up the tradition, but this year, we've had to get creative. Every few nights after the kids are in bed, we go down stairs to our gift giving room (see #2), put on a movie, and I tackle wrapping some presents (see #1) while he is most likely putting a gift together (see #3). He makes us the perfect hot chocolate, and we get to have some time together amidst all the craziness. It may not sound as romantic as a holiday date night (and if you can fit one in, even better!). But, sometimes even just the little moments of just you two can mean just as much.
#9. All is Calm - Make Time for Yourself
Okay, we’ve talked about making time for your nuclear family and just the two of you. Most likely you are also fitting in spending time with a myriad of friends and family. How about a moment just for yourself? It may seem unrealistic, but I find it helps keep me grounded and clear-headed having some time just for me. And my husband is in a much jollier mood if he gets some time for himself, too. I don't think it makes either of us selfish, just human.
Reading a book, flipping through magazines, watching a sappy Hallmark Christmas Movie or a classic movie that you may not get to watch if anyone else has a say in it - anything that gives you a chance to re-charge. Every parent deserves this!
#10. All is Bright - Connecting During the Holidays
Gift-giving, the Santa-bonanza, and holiday parties all seem to pile up on top of each other and the spirit of Christmas can get lost along the way. Find ways to connect to the giving spirit of the season – maybe have you and your children pick out a toy to donate, take them to drop off food at a local pantry, or discover with your own way to give.
A friend of mine came up with a fantastic idea to have the kids help make little gift baskets for the nursing home or hospital patients and personally hand them out. I love that her idea includes getting the kids involved from start to finish and they can actually see the impact of their generosity.
Or have them think about the people in their life they are grateful for that they may not realize right away – their bus driver, the mailman, the receptionist at school, the checkout person at the grocery store. Help them make hand-made notes and give it out themselves. It’s a way they can see what showing gratitude actually looks like!