Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time. Now that I have stated the obvious, I should be more specific. It can be a very stressful time for parents, especially of young children. Who am I kidding? Breakfast is stressful. Getting a small person to put their shoes on can be downright stroke inducing. It is a season of life that is best greeted with low expectations, cheap assembly-required home furnishings, and a sense of humor.
I try to help families set themselves up for success. A big part of that is having realistic expectations. So, the following is my gift to you. Any bubbles that burst as a result of this tip list were intentional, but in the nicest way possible.
1. Become a democracy (very temporarily). What I mean by this is, give everybody who talks a vote. Not everybody wants to do everything, unless your son is Buddy the Elf. Some kids are done making a gingerbread house forty-seven seconds in, would rather play Legos than go caroling, and find driving around looking for lights similar to an extended Time Out. More is not necessarily better, it’s just more. So, rather than giving your family a daily holiday assignment, let each individual pick what they like most, and make those items the priority. You are less likely to incur meltdowns with a more relaxed agenda, with lots of time for free play in between outings. You are also less likely to feel like a failure because you didn’t make reindeer candy canes or string popcorn garland.
2. Keep your routine. Ahh routine. The buzzkill of every spontaneous, creative type, yet the soothing balm to the overstimulated child’s soul. All of the good, fun, exciting stuff that normally takes place around the holidays (gift shopping, relatives visiting, school productions and neighborhood parties) is also messing with the predictability of your child’s little world. The more that daily routine is disturbed, the more likely you are to see your kid losing it. Be selective. It is in your children’s best interest for you to be very picky about activities that mess with meals, naps, and bedtime. Protect it and them. You can still infuse Christmas sprit into the ordinary. Read Christmas themed books at bedtime, use fancy holiday dishes and light candles at the dinner table, and play carols in the car.
3. If it’s not about the gifts, then don’t make it about the gifts. Many parents, myself included, are looking for ways to be intentional about keeping Christ and the spirit of of giving and goodwill as the focal point in their homes. There are all sorts of creative ways to do this, ranging from the simple to the Martha Stewart. Limiting the amount of presents has it’s merit, but has more to do with stewardship than anything. Kids should not be shamed for wanting stuff — it is basic human nature. Receiving gifts can be a lot of fun! Having new, cool stuff to play with and show your friends is a a major goal in childhood!
The seed that we want to plant and water each year is that giving and serving is the greatest expression of love. Taking our cue from The Father, we show others our love, and a glimpse of His love, when we give of our time, our talents, and our treasures. Children can absolutely participate in this, in more ways than I could ever list, but to name a few; making a card for the mailman, doing a sibling’s chore, picking a family gift out of the World Vision Catalog, shopping for a foster child, being a Secret Santa to a neighbor, delivering and decorating a tree for an elderly couple.
You see, this stuff is powerful regardless of whether you put two or twenty gifts under the tree this year. Let your priorities and budget guide the amount of presents you purchase. But we do not become givers at heart by buying less; we become givers at heart by realizing and experiencing the power and joy that come along with blessing others. Focus on giving more opportunities for that.
I hope these little reminders help you reevaluate your priorities and your schedule for Christmas and the days before and after. May your little world be calm and bright.