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Surviving The Holidays
December 12, 2017 6:06 am | by
Surviving the Holidays

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?

About the Author

Heather is mom to four, born within 40 months (single, twins, single). She writes transparently about her chaotic household to encourage others through the twists and turns of parenting.



  • Jennifer L said...
    December 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

    This is my little one’s first Christmas. She’ll be too young to remember it. But I will. Her daddy is gone with the Army in a far away country and so it is important to me to cherish the moments I have with my daughter to help me enjoy the holidays. I love your tips. They remind us that time with our children is by far the most important gift we can give them. And I love the comment on putting your oxygen mask on fist. Since hubby is gone I often forget to do that!

  • dannyscotland said...
    December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I love this post. So perfectly written!

  • aquashamrock said...
    December 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    This will be a wonderful blog to read more fully when my baby isn’t fussing! This is our first Christmas with a child, as well, so I’m not sure how hectic it will be. Since we discovered our pregnancy last December, though, I’ve consciously been reminding myself to slow down, let things go, and not stress about what doesn’t get done. I get a lot less migraines this way!
    We’ll be doing a lot of traveling this year, by car, to visit family for Christmas. We’ll get our first picture with Santa in Arizona, and spend a snowy Christmas Eve and Day in Iowa! She may not remember any of it, but I hope to keep things fun and stress free for myself and my husband! As much as possible, that is, when we aren’t rushing to meet another group of relatives…

  • RJB said...
    December 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I need this advice! This is my first Christmas as a mom 🙂

  • summer said...
    December 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I survive the stressful shopping and crowded malls by shopping online! I spend about the same if not less and can have a drink of wine while I’m doing it!

  • doxielvr08 said...
    December 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    This is my first Christmas with a baby so I am not sure how stressful it will be. However years past I never really get to stressed out about the holidays anyways, I am more of the person to go to the mall on Christmas Eve just to watch all those last min shoppers (usually men) scrambling to get gifts. We usually get our shopping done early, I usually do a lot of baking. I did get a little stressed out last year when all the stores were sold out of Peppermint Food Extract and I couldn’t make my delicious mint fudge! I have already bought 2 boxes of the extract this year 🙂

    But so far this year has been nice, most of our shopping is done, I am doing a lot of homemade gifts this year, I don’t have to worry about little kids snooping around for gifts…yet and we still spend Christmas eve with my in laws then Christmas day with my family so dinner is taken care of 🙂
    I am sure as my son get’s older and is more aware of Santa and the season it might be more stressful. And when I start preparing the holiday dinner I’m sure I will be stressed over that. But I am excited to start holiday traditions with my son. Going up to the mountains to the tree farm, selecting that perfect tree and cutting it down, coming home and turning on the Christmas music and decorating the tree with the ornaments and just hanging out as a family.

  • Michelle P said...
    December 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I wish I had the answer to that… We try to take one day @ a time.. I make lists… that’s probably my only saving grace!!!! This year we are doing some homemade gifts..That is helping me be more prepared. Got our tree up today!!!

  • Renee said...
    December 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I think that is an excellent set of goals! My goal this year is to get a couple more people on board with our (hubby’s and my) goal of minimizing the focus on gifts: a gift for each child, an additional gift for the first child who was born on Christmas day, and leave it at that. I also plan to hand-make a few gifts that have been in the works for several months now.

    This Christmas season (and I realize some will tailor this to Chanukah or other seasonal celebrations), I want the focus to be on helping others and thankfulness for having everything we need, even after a more difficult year than we’re used to having. I’ve already told my brother (8-years-old) that we are going to ask Santa to take all of our gifts to someone who really needs them, when asked the “what is Santa bringing to your house” question after a long day of listening him whine to my mom about wanting to go to the mall to buy toys (this was on Black Friday, no less). Thanks for the great ideas!

  • The Halbert Home said...
    December 1, 2010 at 11:53 am

    That’s a great idea to ask children what they remember. I’ll have to try that in the future when my child is old enough.

  • Jill said...
    December 1, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I’m hosting my first holiday event this year. I decided that since I love to make cookies for holidays, that I would start 2 months ahead and make one batch a week. We’d get a small treat that week and save the rest in the freezer. I do it mostly while my husband is home, either right before or right after dinner, so he can take care of keeping the 2 year old away from the oven. If anyone decides to come over, or we need ’emergency’ treats for my husband’s work, all I have to do is get them out to thaw. If not, on Christmas we’ll have a bounty of different treats to share with family. I usually make 2 kinds of fudge, and chex mix, too. At least this year I’m not making cookies on top of it at the last minute. I wrapped presents as I bought them this time and we have them upstairs out of my daughter’s reach. I recently took down my fall decorations and will put up holiday ones soon. I will start cleaning probably 2 weeks before the holiday, and that way I’ll just have to do one more sweep of toys that day. If anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to follow me on over to my blog and comment. I’d love to hear anything any experienced holiday hosts have to suggest! I end up re-doing a lot of stuff because of my daughter un-doing it on me when someone is coming to visit, for example: re making beds, refolding laundry, etc.