Christmas is almost here! If you read that and thought, “Oh no …” well, I feel you. Excitement is running high around our house, but so, too, is the stress. Which is kind of crazy, because, as my wife put it the other day, “this year, for once, we’re actually on top of things.” Still, though, the pace of life in the days right before Christmas is hectic, and there are always last-minute chores to fit in around all the usual hustle-bustle of working, parenting, and keeping house.
And what’s more, the real holiday pressure is greater than any one chore. As parents, we have a responsibility to our children to orchestrate a happy holiday — to make sure the days are packed with special events, delicious food, presents — and to be in a good enough mood that we’re not mom and dadzillas, stomping around breathing fire at the slightest provocation. Because make no doubt, there will be provocations. The patterns you’ve been establishing since September, routines that are probably just starting to feel familiar, will be disrupted by a long break from school. Waiting patiently for Santa to arrive is challenging for every kid, and especially for my five-year-old Felix, that excitement can bubble over into a “I don’t know what to do with myself” funk of whining and moping.
It’s enough to push any sane parent over the edge, and this morning I found myself in the holiday doldrums, wishing I could just blast Charli XCX and dance around the kitchen instead of doing any work, Christmas-related or otherwise. After doing just that, I promised myself that this year, I wouldn’t burn out in the next few weeks. Here’s my plan:
1. Do as much in advance as possible.
The presents, of course, have to be purchased in advance, but there’s all sorts of other things you can do too. Prepare appetizers, for instance. Later today I’ll be making hummus, and spiced nuts. When I was growing up, my uncle used to make a list of all the dishes he would need for Christmas dinner and he’d lay that out in advance of the meal, so they were all at the ready. Look for what you can do now to make tomorrow easier.
2. Take shortcuts when you can.
Yesterday, I shopped for most of our Christmas delicacies. The fridge is stacked with a plethora of cheeses and a small garden’s worth of veggies, and our bar has enough liquor to keep us seeing double for weeks. Despite all that food, for dinner last night Felix ate a hot dog and my wife and I ordered in Mexican food. Why? Because the next few days will be spent largely in the kitchen, listening to holiday tunes and whipping up a bunch of our favorite dishes, so last night we let someone else do the cooking. Look for these shortcuts when you can. Get pizza for dinner. Buy bagels for breakfast, or pastries you can just pop in the oven and warm. Put off vacuuming. Just do the dishes once a day. No need to add on more chores to your already long to-do list.
3. Manage your expectations.
And while we’re taking shortcuts, let’s reduce those expectations too. Our memories are funny things: we recall the highlights and low points, but often forget the long stretches where not much happened. I remember Christmas mornings of my childhood with great clarity. What I forget is how, in the middle of the day, my dad would take a nap, my mom would lay on the couch to watch a holiday movie, and my little brother and I would retreat to our own corners of the living room to play or read, hardly talking to one another. Not every moment has to be the best. Just like Santa, the perfect Christmas exists in our dreams and perhaps our memories, but not reality.
4. Split up the work and cooperate.
Don’t play the martyr and try to do it all alone. Communicate clearly with your partner and other family members about what they can do to help. If you’re hosting Christmas or New Year’s Eve dinner, divvy up the responsibilities — ask everyone to bring something. This year, since I work from home while my wife is in the office, she took care of all the online shopping while I hit the brick-and-mortar stores. Get the kids involved too! On Christmas afternoon, we’ll be making homemade ravioli together (Felix loves operating the pasta machine). The holidays are a family affair. Don’t just share the fun, share the work too.
5. Make time to enjoy yourselves as a couple.
There is the holiday magic that you weave for your kids, and then there is the holiday magic that’s just for you and your partner. It’s like a holiday within a holiday. You might not have a lot of time to spend together alone — on Christmas Eve night, for example, my wife and I will be too busy playing Santa to do much else — but try to find a couple minutes under the mistletoe with that special person in your life. Perhaps Christmas night, when the kids have tuckered themselves out and are fast asleep, or maybe during midday nap time … Remember, it’s your holiday too. Enjoy yourselves!
6. Take time to relax alone.
Ask your partner to spend even just 30 minutes on parent duty so that you can recharge your batteries, alone. Exercise, take a hot bath, read a book, whatever. And then make sure your partner gets the same. I’ll probably, if the weather holds, take a short run on Christmas. It helps me blow off steam, which makes me a happier father and partner. It is so easy to forget about yourself on Christmas day, but this year, I vow not to do it.
I will do all that I can to keep my spirit light, and my mood upbeat. As I said to my wife the other night, it’s true, there is always a manic energy around this time of year, but let’s not forget, we really are mostly on top of things. We won’t fail Christmas. As long as our family is together and having fun, that’s not possible! Here’s hoping that you have a wonderful holiday too.
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