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What I Learned from My Children about Managing Holiday Stress

As I was pouring my coffee this morning, my 5-year-old ran into a previously quiet kitchen and exclaimed, “Only 12 days ’til Christmas!”

That’s impossible, I thought. Half our decorations are still in boxes in the basement, not a single present’s been wrapped, and I’ve been unable to locate that Easy Bake Oven on my daughter’s wish list. (Who knew they were so elusive?) There’s no way Christmas is in less than 2 weeks.

Except that it is.

I promised myself that this year I wouldn’t get caught in the holiday stress trap, but there I was, in my slippers and PJs, about to panic. I took a big gulp of coffee and sat down with my kids, who were eating cereal and chatting excitedly about the Christmas pageant at church. My oldest son is playing the role of one of the three kings, clad in regal purple robes. My 5-year-old will be a shepherd, staff in hand, red Chuck Taylors on his feet. And my 3-year-old? The jury’s still out on her willingness to participate, but I have a feeling she’ll agree to wear her angel wings.

My thoughts raced. There are teachers’ gifts to buy and treats for the neighbors to bake. There are lights to hang outside and packages to ship and I haven’t even gotten started on my Christmas cards.

The kids’ conversation had moved from the pageant itself to the reward after church: coming home on Christmas Eve to drink cocoa and select one present to unwrap.

My 9-year-old shared his strategy with his younger siblings. He explained that sometimes even the bigger boxes contain things that aren’t exciting: a bath robe, perhaps, or a new pair of snow boots. “You’ve got to shake it,” he said.

I looked at my younger two, soaking in this “wisdom.” Their expressions said it all. Excitement. Anticipation. The joy of just being together.

I learn lessons from my children every day, but this is a particularly important one: Christmas will come and go. Presents will be unwrapped, tissue paper and boxes will litter my family room. Toys will be played with, then lost or broken. But what remains will be how I choose to experience it all. The memories we make as a family.

There are 12 days until Christmas whether I’m stressed or not. Whether the boxes of decorations eventually get carried up from the basement or not. There are 12 days until Christmas, and I’m making a silent promise to my children— and myself— to be present for a king, a shepherd, and an angel who may or may not agree to wear her wings.

More by Mary Lauren

Post-Divorce Parenting: Putting Kids First during the Holiday Season

10 Holiday Teacher Gifts for $10 or Less

Typical or Troublesome: Parenting Experts Weigh in on Common Behavioral Issues

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