Surviving the holidays as a parent. The holiday season is always busy, it’s easy to get caught up in all the busy-ness. After all the shopping, menu planning, gift planning and schedule making, I’m already exhausted and I imagine you are too. Take a deep breath – you got this!
As parents, we often want to create magic holiday memories like those we see on a 30 second television commercial. The problem is, my children are much younger, not returning from college and if I smelled coffee brewing before my husband and I awoke, that would be a major red flag at our house.
So how do parents of young children survive the holidays? All the organizational gurus chant “Simplify! Organize! Schedule!” But how do we realistically provide a memorable holiday season for our family, especially when our little ones don’t grant us enough time to complete a ‘to-do’ list without interruption?
One thing I’ve learned along the way is to pay attention to what my children remember. About this time of year, I ask my kids what they remember most from last year and what they would like to do this year as a family. This clues me in to what they remember, as well as what is significant to each of them, since they have unique personalities. I use this information to build my “must complete” holiday list, a few family activities along with the mandatory tasks of gift purchases, wrapping and travel preparations.
For one of my sons, it’s baking cookies while another prefers to hand make ornaments. While it would be easy for my personality to go all “Martha Stewart” with the fanciest recipes and most intricate ornaments, I have to keep in mind activities they will enjoy and that will not easily frustrate them. I’ve discovered, mostly by trial and error, that to my children, it’s about the time spent together, rather than the end product.
As a mom, I have to think about what I can “let go” of to create a happier and less stressful experience. Almost daily during the holiday season I’m forced to remind myself to adjust my expectations to accommodate my children’s abilities.
A two year old will make a mess while “stirring” (read: “tossing”) the flour into the cookie dough, so we invest in the pre-made sugar cookies that they can count out and place on a cookie sheet and save the mixing for another year.
My four-year-old can color (mostly) inside the lines of a pre-printed wooden ornament with a set of washable markers without ruining her favorite outfit. I’ll save the glue and paint for the school years, while saving myself precious time that’d be spent cleaning otherwise.
Most years, my Christmas tree is bare from the floor to about 4 feet high. With four children, there are four separate opinions on how each ornament should be hung (and rehung), sometimes numerous times a day. Most evenings, there’s a large pile of ornaments underneath the tree. I consciously choose to be okay with that. I tell myself someday I’ll have a color coordinated that looks like it’s decorated by the Hallmark elves, but I know in my heart the tree I’ll stare at for hours will be one filled with homemade ornaments from years gone by made of paper, craft sticks and yarn.
My big goals for surviving this holiday season are relatively simple:
#1. Do one special family activity for each child. I’m trying to make them about 30 minutes each because that’s about all the attention span I can honestly expect from my children, given their ages. That may mean we only bake a half batch of cookies, or break up a bigger activity into smaller projects. To keep it stress free, we might do two activities one weekend and none the next if we are busy, as long as each one gets done before the end of the year.
#2. Spend at least 30 minutes one night each week in front of the fire after kid bedtime, with or without my husband. Maybe I’ll have a cup of tea, read a good book, paint my toenails or just stare at the fire. Maybe a candlelight bath is your thing, or some time with your favorite holiday album is what works for you. What you do doesn’t really matter, what is important is taking care of yourself.
I think we should use the advice we hear from airline attendants.
Put your oxygen mask on first, then you’ll be able to for the child. If my family is to survive the holidays, I have to take care of myself first. To take care of myself, I have to have a few moments every few days to think my own thoughts, whatever they may be. Any mom of little children understands what a luxury thinking your own thoughts can be. When I have that quiet time, I find it much easier to find grace for the exceptionally difficult days, which always seem to arrive about 24 hours before your in-laws do.
How are you preparing for the holidays? What tips and tricks have you learned that make the holidays more memorable? How do you take care of yourself during this stressful season?