5 Steps to Survive the Holiday Season As A Parent

I never noticed how close together Thanksgiving and Christmas were until I was doing it in Mom mode. What madness is this? I can barely take a breath after Halloween before Christmas music is playing while turkeys suddenly show up in all the grocery stores. As soon as we put down our forks after that last bite of pumpkin pie, it’s time to shop for 40 people, put a dozen “winter celebration” events in our calendar, and figure out how to pull off Santa magic. Again.

Is there no more vivid reminder of the selflessness of parenting than holidays with kids?

My daughter was 3 weeks old when I celebrated my first big holiday, Thanksgiving, as a parent. Now I know how relatively simple that was – she had no speaking ability to complain about the food, and no capacity to feel excited and disappointed in rapid succession (just hungry and gassy).

But it was a glimpse into how the nostalgia of my childhood version of the holidays faced a harsh reckoning with the reality of the parent version. I don’t completely remember, but I’m pretty sure our nursing session fell right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. And of course I was still adjusting to the torture of extreme sleep deprivation.

Is there no more vivid reminder of the selflessness of parenting than holidays with kids? It’s actually kind of all about them, whether deliberately conjuring Christmas magic, or their naptime schedule dictating when we can finally sit down and eat a Thanksgiving dinner they promptly reject. By the time we finally get to Christmas morning, I feel like I’ve run a marathon and need a long nap, but instead I have three kids strung out on excitement and too many Christmas cookies, with emotions swinging like a pendulum on speed.

These are not the holidays of my childhood magic.

When I see the lists of Thanksgiving crafts to do with kids, or family baking projects, I now cynically chuckle and scroll on by. I used to fall for it, but now I know the reality of glue-y fingers, the shrill “THAT’S NOT HOW I WANT IT!” when my crafting guidance falls short, and the chaos of children combined with measuring cups and flour.

Forget feeling the magic, how do we just feel at least a little more calm and balanced in the holiday season? Follow these five steps and you WILL survive:

1.     HOSTING: LESS IS MORE. Don’t host everything. It always sounds like such a GREAT idea to open your home to your loved ones and play hostess with all those new recipes you’ve been wanting to try. I truly enjoy hosting – it does make the house feel more like an actual home. I just suggest you pace it. This year, when we were deciding in October what to do for Thanksgiving, I was so tired that I just couldn’t entertain the idea of entertaining. Drive 8 hours so I don’t take on hosting? Yes, please. But we are looking forward to hosting Christmas. (Caveat: Check in with me December 26th.)

2.     KEEP IT SIMPLE ALL SEASON. Make a list of all the fun holiday activities you want to do, and then pick half to actually do. Which ones are most important and meaningful? For us, we take on a weekend of baking, knowing the chaos that ensues. But the tradition of passing these out to friends and family is one way we make Christmas about appreciating people we care about in our community, instead of the daily Santa list revision.

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3.     TRAVEL SMART. If you are traveling, allow buffer time. I have learned that travel the day after a major holiday is asking for trouble. If possible, plan ahead for a gap-day so you and the kids aren’t careening from holiday highs and lows to the minefield that is travel with kids.

4.     PREP THE RELATIVES. A recurring theme from my “Top 10 Survival Tips for Travel with Young Kids” because it’s so critical, communicate ahead of time to the grandparents or other family what is going to be key to everyone maintaining sanity. It might be related to eating times, types of activities, or sleep. You know your child best and it is probably worth what may be an awkward conversation as an insurance premium for a smoother day for all. In my case, it has always been sticking with the same bedtime, which sounds so un-fun during the holidays, but the extra stimulation and excitement combined with all other parts of our daily routine being out the window, meant the 7:30-8 bedtime window stays. If anything, it gives me time to sit with a glass of wine and relax before I crash at my own early bedtime.

5.     DOWN TIME. Speaking of overstimulation, this is the culprit of heightened holiday stress as a parent. WE ARE ALL OVERSTIMULATED. Whether it’s our own emotional stress notoriously triggered by the holiday season, the doubled demands on our time without any more hours in the day, or the constant stream of excitement flowing through our kids’ brains still learning to emotionally regulate, we are all in overdrive. The best part to deal with this is to be proactive – plan in down time for parents and kids, even if it means turning down an invitation or two. Make no mistake, as much as we wish it weren’t true, kids absorb our stress so it is in all of our best interest to manage this stress the best we can.  

These may no longer be holidays of childhood magic FOR US, but the irony is the more we can reign in our stress about it, the more magical it actually will be for our children. And that’s why we put ourselves through all this, right?

More Tips for Surviving the Holidays As A Parent:

(My curated list for you as another timesaver!)

A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays, themuse.com

How to Survive the Holidays With Kids: Top 5 Tips For Parents, HuffPost

Tips to Get Your Kids Through the Holidays Graciously and Gratefully, The Washington Post