When you think about Christmas and holidays, do you start singing “Joy to the World,” or does your pulse rate increase at the thought of gifts, dinners, school holidays, and tangled lights too fast too soon?
Both are perfectly normal.
Holidays with kids can be more joyous because of their bright-eyed wonder, but they can also be more stressful. Adding kids to an already busy holiday schedule makes getting anything done exponentially harder. But what if we could change that?
It depends on our expectations.
We are all at different places and seasons in life. A season with young children looks far different than one with teenage kids, or none at all. Whatever yours is, learn to live in its rhythm.
You know, those little ones don’t care if you’re super-busy come November and December ... and they won’t change their demands on your time. Powered by too many star-shaped sugar cookies and too much anticipation, they will probably turn extra-hyper and cranky. Perfect timing, I know.
Here’s how I think about it:
- Working against our kids’ natural rhythms and personalities = stress.
- Working with our kids’ limits = good memories.
We get to choose which we want.
So try these five tips to increase the memories and decrease the stress.
1. Slow and steady wins
If you have children, do not expect them to be enchanted by a marathon cookie bake. They won’t be. After decorating the first, oh, half-dozen? They’re out of there. And you're left with fifty more cookies to cut, decorate, and bake. You will resent this. Trust me. I know. Take it easy and do small bits at a time. You’ll thank me later. Apply the same rule to decorating. Take holiday preparations in small bits here and there when you can and everyone is in the mood.
Make a note to self — shopping, cooking, basically anything — will take twice as long with your kids. Just accept and plan for that. When we have illusions that we can cram everything we want to do into one 24-hour slot, we get crabby and stressed because those expectations will not be met. Ever. It’s not enough to know in our heads that anything with kids takes longer; we have to actually plan that into our schedules. Write down the time you expect something to take, then pencil at least twice that amount into your calendar. I am not joking here — do it.
To do this successfully, though, you need tip #2.
2. Work ahead
This goes right with slow and steady. Bake, wrap, do anything you can way ahead of time. In small bursts. If you spend one hour early on making small things and putting them in the freezer for later, two things happen. One, your kids don't get bored helping. Two, you have built up your readiness for holidays meals a little at a time. When the time comes around or unexpected people drop in, you're ready. No stress.
3. Get family involved
I cannot even tell you how thrilling it was for me the year I realized my kids could wrap one another’s presents. Hello, massive load of work I did not enjoy lifted in one brilliant move. You want to know what your sisters are getting for Christmas? Go find out, kid; here’s the scissors and paper. It didn’t work for things that were going to be identical gifts, but everything else? Awesome.
Kids can cook, decorate, wrap, and who knows what else until we ask? Older kids can shop, create Facebook events, and design cards. Use those skills!
4. Get their input
Don’t be the planning czar. Maybe there’s a tradition they hate and don’t want to do. Or one they love and must have. Maybe they have a great idea for an out-of-the-box party. Take time early to sit down and ask what the family really wants out of the Christmas season. Listen. Learn. Kids have much to teach as well.
5. Forget perfection
Parents joke about how they “allow” their kids to decorate — and then they do it all over again once the kids are in bed. OK, yes, guilty as charged. I may or may not have moved all the ornaments made in first grade to the back of the tree once. Or twice.
But there is no surer way to stress your family than to make it clear whatever they did to help you was not quite good enough. The gifts aren’t wrapped like you fantasized? The dessert isn't quite looking like a chef put it together? So what? Let's repeat this together: The point is not how they are done but that they are done. In another season of life, you may have a different look. But this is now. Love it.
And . . . Remember the Main Thing
A busy heart leaves little room for Jesus. A frenzied, stressed individual cannot stop long enough to focus on the reason for the season, to hear the good news declared, or to welcome the crying baby in the manger.
A person distracted with the non-essentials of the Christmas season has no room for the One essential.
Taking time to put Jesus first in your holiday plans relieves your stress like no pill you've ever hear of. Slow down. Read the stories of Christmas with your kids. Talk about them. Think of ways to help others the way Jesus did. You might just start humming “Joy to the World.”
This is an edited excerpt from Jill's free ebook, All Stressed up and No Place to Go: Being Hospitable During the Holidays without Being a Hot Mess.
Discover more about Jill at www.jillmrichardson.com, facebook.com/jillwrites or @JillMarieRichar
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