| by Amanda Witman
As the holidays approach, what memory comes first to your mind? Do you think of a quiet, candlelit moment sipping cocoa while watching the snow fall, or is it noise and chaos and the hopeless feeling that you’ll never stay on top of things no matter how you try?
For many of us, the months surrounding the holidays can be a busy time. Planning, activities, and celebrations fill the days. Even outside of our own family’s traditions, there is a bustle all around that can sweep us away, even as 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 cherish the simple joys of the holidays, even while complications and distractions compete for everyone’s energy and attention?
There are so many wonderful possibilities at this time of year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the creative, joyful, exciting, enticing options. It can be hard to pick and choose.
It’s also easy to get overwhelmed by things outside our control. The well-meaning expectations of family, friends, and community can pull at us from many angles. Many needs are high this time of year. Those around us may be navigating financial pressures, seasonal health issues, or the challenge of a cold winter.
On top of all this, we want our children to collect exquisitely beautiful memories they can cherish for a lifetime, and we may feel responsible for making this happen for them.
It’s no wonder we feel challenged! Where do we begin? Start by sitting down and clarifying your priorities. Give yourself permission to let go of everything else.
Focus on the traditions you love most.
If you could only choose a few select traditions to honor, what would they be? Ask everyone in the family what one or few things they most enjoy at the holidays. What would the season just not feel right without? What do you look forward to most each year?
Come up with a list of “essentials” particular to your family. Make sure your own wants and needs are taken into account, too. Keep your traditions within your own means — time, money, energy. And then let go of the traditions and opportunities that feel less central.
Choose traditions that are uncomplicated.
Whittle down your list of traditions to exclude things that require a lot of effort, time, money, or logistics. Think about possible ways to transform the ideal and honor the wish or sentiment behind the tradition without making it complicated.
Your own version of simple may look quite different from someone else’s. For one person, simple may mean homemade, while for another, it may mean store-bought. Take whatever shortcuts make sense to get the result that makes you happy.
Plan ahead where possible.
Some people love a last-minute flurry of shopping, baking, crafting, and wrapping. Others find it stressful and overwhelming. Think ahead and plan to do what works best for you and yours. Take the time to make lists, and keep a carefully updated calendar so the details will not be forgotten.
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. If you feel the holidays were too rushed or too full, go back to your list of priorities and see what you can trim. If it felt like something was missing, think through how you’ll incorporate it when the next holiday season rolls around.
Keep expectations realistic.
This goes for both parents and children. It is so easy to get swept away by a whirlwind of picture-perfect hopes and dreams, especially when such things are being sold to us through very effective holiday marketing campaigns. Talk often with your children about keeping expectations flexible and being open to creative and perhaps simpler variations of what they may have enjoyed in past years.
Managing expectations may not be easy, but with gentle persistence, your efforts will make a difference.
Remember that your child will follow your lead, even if it seems that outside pressures are competing mightily for their attention. Lead by example: “In our family, we do it this way…”
Those are powerful words.
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. This can lead to a sense of happy fulfillment and a host of good memories, or it can lead to burnout if sufficient recovery isn’t possible for those who might need it.
Remember that not all family members necessarily have the same capacity for social engagement. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How about your children? Do some of you crave crowds and excitement while others prefer to hide out with a good book at home? Seek balance. Everyone’s needs are important.
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.
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 and to speak from the heart in expressing thanks.
Make gratitude part of your everyday language, and your children will be- come fluent in it, too.
There are many ways to show appreciation, so if the thought of writing thank-you notes stresses you out, model other ways of giving thanks.
And by all means, let your children, partner, and the others close to you know how much it means to you when they express their gratitude for your efforts. Appreciation helps usfeel good about the extra work we put in around the holidays, and hearing it from our loved ones helps keep us going during this potentially depleting time of year.
Routines are as important as ever.
Honor the normal rhythms of your home. Even while you weave some holiday fun into your schedule, keep the basic structure of your day intact where you can. It is comforting to children to keep a familiar routine, and comfort helps to keep stress levels down.
Many families want and need to make exceptions for holiday celebrations and observations, and that is fine. Be spontaneous when themoment calls for it, but then balance things out with down time and the opportunity for unstructured play for children plus some restorative time for you, the parent.
Capitalize on flexibility.
Take advantage of any flexibility you have available. Where possible, 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. Or take it a step further and change the tradition. At some ages and stages, it might work better to stay home and encourage family and friends to come to you.
Allow for changes and adjustments.
If you are accustomed to juggling many responsibilities, it might not ordinarily be a big deal if you drop a ball or two. But regular challenges can be magnified at the holidays, which means it’s generally healthier for everyone if there are fewer balls in the air from the start. If you miscalculate and start dropping balls, pause and revise your plan.
It takes courage to renegotiate commitments, particularly when we don’t want to disappoint others. But maintaining a smooth and manageable pace for ourselves and our children is essential. Bringing this priority into our relationships helps others recognize its importance, too.
Give yourself comfort and joy.
Make self-care a high priority. Eat well, stay hydrated, and 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. Allow for plenty of free time at home for everyone to relax, and cancel less critical activities if you find you are starting to feel rundown. Take preventive measures, and care for yourself as lovingly as you do your children.
Keep home at the center.
Home has the potential to be a blissful sanctuary, a cozy nest where the more adventurous can recover from outside activities and the less adventurous can comfortably prepare themselves for the world before venturing out in it. If your home needs it, make small changes to support the comfort and relaxation of the people who live there.
For those of us in northern climates, winter takes its toll on our bodies with its long nights and cold days. The extra activity surrounding the holiday season can deplete us further.
A comfortable home-base plays an important role in fostering healthy balance. What do you and your family need most to feel restful and comfortable in your home?
Make space for recovery.
Once the holidays are over, it can feel like everything has suddenly come to a full stop. Even happy, wonderful, exciting stress is still a kind of stress. Do what you can to build in a buffer and ensure that you’re ready to start the new year with full attention and commitment.
Allow for some extra down time in the days following your biggest celebra- tion(s) to allow yourself and your children to recover. Plan some easy going time off in between events or once the holidays are at an end.
The holiday season can be an intense time of year in so many different ways. Allow your heart and instinct to guide you in keeping a healthy balance. By keeping things simple, you can help make the holidays more manageable, healthy, and enjoyable for everyone. Happy holidays!
Amanda Witman is Oak Meadow’s social media coordinator and a homeschooling mother of four. She enjoys playing fiddle, tending her garden, organizing community events, and having adventures.