I’m not really sure I’m qualified to write this article. I have been the over-stressed, staying-up-late-the-night-before-wrapping-presents, posting-gifts-abroad-on-the-very-last-day, trying-to-be-the-perfect-Pinterest-crafting-mother. Not really the zen holiday season Montessori-mum I picture in my head.
Now that my children are 15 and 14 years old, it’s fun to reflect back to my high expectations and see how much our approach to the holidays has been simplified and how the joy of the season has increased.
The thing that has helped lower the stress levels around the holiday season has been to start preparations early. I now set myself an ambitious goal to have any gifts purchased (and ideally wrapped) by the end of November. The amount of space this clears for the month of December, both mentally and physically is amazing. I challenge you to try it.
This frees up time for ritual building in the month of December. Some things we love in our house are:
– A homemade advent calendar – an envelope for each day hangs on some baking twine; inside there is a little slip of paper with something festive to do together. For example, make some festive craft, bake cookies, watch a Christmas film, light candles for Chanukah, put out your shoe for Sinterklaas, or go iceskating.
– Donating a gift to charity
– Collecting a decoration to add to the holiday tree
– Sending cards to family and friends – often a few are handmade
– Enjoying meals with friends – we have our favorite recipes which we use each year and the children love this consistency.
Managing the social calendar is also important to preserve the family’s sanity. With so many celebrations at school, work, with friends and at home, it can be a lot for a child to manage. It’s time to stop people-pleasing and really think about which events you and your family want to attend. Schedule some pajama days in December to let the children relax and decompress from the excitement of the season.
If you enjoy social events, but your child not so much, arrange a babysitter or family member to come to your place where your child gets to stay home and relax, and you can go and socialize. Being aware of the energy it takes for a child to process these celebrations goes a long way to explain the volatility many children experience in the holiday period.
That said, it is likely there will be explosions. Knowing this we can prepare ourselves for them. Being your child’s guide rather than taking these expressions personally, will help your child come back to calm while you can remain supportive, relaxed and remain non-confrontational. In the lead up to the festive season, you can practice allowing all their feelings (even the ugly ones), allowing them to let them out, and – once they are calm – to make amends. Rather than punishing them for their big emotions, we are teaching them how they can calm themselves down and take responsibility for their actions.
To remain calm ourselves requires us to look after ourselves. This can be so difficult to prioritize when you feel like you have to look after everyone else and there is so much to do. This time investment will pay itself back exponentially. It may be as simple as soaking in the bath once the kids are in bed, meeting up with some friends, sitting down to finish a cup of tea, fitting in a run, meditating, or burning some essential oils. Promise me you will take just 10 minutes every day in December to look after yourself. So that you don’t burn yourself out. And so you can enjoy the season with your family.
Which leads me to my last discovery – keep it simple. The most important part of the festive season is togetherness. If you are running around trying to cook a fancy dinner, or you are distracted by a super long shopping list or over-scheduled agenda, you are likely to miss creating connection with your family and the simple joy of seeing your child making new discoveries. Their joy as they experience new smells, tastes and maybe toys. Work out what is most important to your family. And let the rest drop.
Our holiday season these days is by no means Pinterest-worthy. But it is cosy (“gezellig”as they say in Dutch) and the rituals we have built are still anchors in our holiday season for all of us.
Sending best wishes for a healthy and restful holiday season!
PS I confess – I really do like Pinterest for inspiration. I just keep it a little more in check these days :). What do you do in your family to keep the holidays enjoyable?
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