For many of us, December is a month of holiday planning, activities, and celebration. Even outside of our own family’s traditions, there is a bustle all around that can sweep us away while we do our best to keep ourselves and our children grounded. How can we resist the pull of the holiday frenzy that surrounds us? How can we help our families enjoy the simple joys of the holidays even while there are so many complicated distractions competing for everyone’s energy and attention?
1. Focus on the traditions you love most. If you could only choose a few traditions to honor, what would they be? Ask everyone in the family what few things they most enjoy at the holidays. Come up with a list of “essentials” particular to your family. Make sure your own wants and needs are taken into account, too. And then let go of the traditions and opportunities that feel less central. Keep your traditions within your means—time, money, energy.
2. Plan ahead where possible. Some people love a last-minute flurry of shopping, baking, crafting, and wrapping. Others find it overwhelming. Think ahead and plan to do what works best for you and yours. If you are reading this when the holidays are already underway, take notes for next year so you’ll remember what worked best and what you wish had been different about the way things flowed this year.
3. Keep expectations realistic. This goes for both parents and children. Remember that your child will follow your lead, even if it seems that outside pressures are competing mightily for their attention. “In our family we do it this way…” Those are powerful words.
4. Account for varied social needs. There are always abundant social opportunities at the holidays, and there is more pressure than at other times of year to participate in such things. Remember that not all family members have the same capacity for social engagement. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about your children? Do some of you crave crowds and excitement while others prefer to hide behind a good book at home? Seek balance; everyone’s needs are important.
5. Value simple gifts. If your children are old enough to participate in gift-giving, encourage them to make gifts with their hands and from their hearts. Don’t worry about setting them up with complicated crafts, and don’t distract them from the process of creation by focusing on the finished product. Simple is fine. Homegrown gifts, especially those made by children, can be the most treasured gifts received by loving friends and relatives. Hand-decorated cards, bits of made-up poetry, coupons for helpful things they can do themselves, framed drawings, photos, bits of colorful handwork — these can make lovely and much appreciated gifts, enjoyed by both the maker and the recipient.
6. Cultivate appreciation. Pause periodically for moments of gratitude, and invite your children to join you. Voice your appreciation for the efforts of others, no matter how small. Encourage your child to find reasons to thank others. There are many ways to show appreciation, so if thank-you notes stress you out, model other ways. Appreciation helps us feel good about the extra work we put in around the holidays, and hearing it from our children helps keep us going during this potentially depleting time of year.
7. Preserve routines. Honor the normal rhythms of your home. Even while you weave holiday fun into your schedule, keep the basic structure of your day intact where you can. It is comforting to children to have a familiar routine, and comfort helps to keep stress levels down. Make sure to plan some down time and time for unstructured play, as well as some restorative time for you, the parent.
8. Capitalize on flexibility. For most families, homeschooling allows for extra flexibility. Plan outings in the mornings when most children are in school and adults at work. The roads are less busy and the stores and sidewalks are less full. If travel is part of your tradition, plan it for times when others are not likely to be traveling.
9. Give yourself comfort and joy. Make self-care a high priority. Eat well, stay hydrated, get enough rest. Take quiet moments for reflection — a cup of peppermint tea, a walk in the crisp outdoors. Light a candle and play soft music to help center and calm everyone in the family. For many of us, the holiday season tends to coincide with winter illness season. Plan plenty of unscheduled time at home for everyone to relax, and cancel less critical activities if you find you are starting to feel run down. Take preventive measures and care for yourself as lovingly as you do your children.
10. Make space for recovery. Once the holidays are over, it can feel like everything has suddenly come to a full stop. Plan some extra down time in the days following your biggest celebration to allow yourself and your children to recover. Even happy, wonderful, exciting stress is still stress. Take a break and restore your energy so that you’re ready to start the new year with full attention and commitment.
When in doubt, keep it simple! Happy holidays.