Presents to buy, parties to plan (and attend), decorations and food to organise, standing in queues with excited children who want to meet the big man in the red suit (then shriek with fear when they get up close) and, if you are expecting holiday visitors, you will also have to clean and cook and prepare the spare room.
It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by pressure to make this time special for everybody around you, often at the expense of your own well-being. After all, just because it’s ‘that time of year’, you don’t have any more hours in each day. The ‘silly season’ can be enough to try the patience of the most well-intentioned super-mummy and instead of feeling the joy, Christmas can see you becoming a ‘Mummy Grinch’ and spoiling everybody’s fun.
If you feel your stress levels rising at the mere thought of hitting the shops or choosing gifts, let alone spending Christmas day with relatives that you try and avoid all year, slow down. Take a deep breath and centre yourself then consider, what is really important here? How do I really want my little ones to remember Christmas? How can I ‘downsize’ while still making Christmas meaningful?
Ditch the pressure
If you love doing the tree, making cards or driving around looking at houses all lit up, enjoy it. If everything feels too overwhelming, keep things simple: you don’t have to make an elaborate gingerbread house or hand made cards to make Christmas meaningful. In fact, if sending cards feels like an extra ‘to do’ let it go and please ditch the guilt, along with the pressure. You can call old Aunty Madge and pop the kids on the phone for a chat. Or see if she knows how to Skype on her iPad (you could be surprised). She will enjoy this more than a card anyway.
Set your inner control freak free.
If your kids are old enough to make decorations, let them; if they are old enough to wrap gifts, hand them the sticky tape; if they want to decorate the tree, set it up and step back or gently guide if things are looking a bit ‘bottom heavy’ (because they can’t reach the higher branches). If you can calm your control freak urges, it could be loads of fun to allow the kids to paint a Christmas window (think, a quaint, stick figure nativity).
No, your house won’t look like the glossy home-maker magazines but you will be inspiring creativity and sharing happy memories. This is meaningful.
If you are hosting the family dinner, write a list of the basic food you need and let each person contribute a dish or two. Consider whether family members can manage cooking or how their budget might stretch and if it would be better to request nibbles or drinks.
Keep gift giving simple
Ask yourself again, how do I really want my little ones to remember Christmas? Chances are, toddlers will have as much fun playing with empty boxes and wrapping paper as they do with new toys. Whatever their ages, kids don’t need their parents to be stressed out for months because you have blown the plastic trying to give them amazing gifts. Consider, can you give an experience they can anticipate with excitement and gift them with happy memories, instead of more ‘stuff’?
There is a lovely saying, ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.’ This can be helpful as a guide to simplify gift giving.
And for extended family, why not try a Kris Kringle? Each person just buys for one other person and setting a price limit keeps things fair for everyone.
Plan support for ‘The Big Day.’
If you are panicking about Christmas day itself because it will involve spending a whole day with family members who may be critical of your parenting style (“in our day….”) or intolerant of your little ones’ behaviour (from over-tired toddlers to a grizzly baby who is likely to become more fractious if you are tense about breastfeeding in front of Uncle Tom so this affects your ‘let down’ and your baby pulls off and exposes more of your nipple!), talk to your partner beforehand about how you can be prepared and what specific support you will need.
If you are feeling vulnerable but have a supportive family member such as a sister, ask her to be your buddy for the day and help you with your children or deflect criticism that comes your way.
Do it your way
There are as many ways to celebrate Christmas as there are individual families, so it is impossible to please everybody or to live up to high ideals of the perfect Christmas. Remember, you are more likely to create happy memories for your children if you are relaxed, so please give yourself the gift of kindness – be as realistic about your expectations of yourself as you are with your children, stop to smell the pine needles and do the things YOU enjoy. This way, you will feel the joy and be able to share it with your little ones.
Pinky McKay is a mum of five, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling baby care author of ‘Parenting by Heart,’ Sleeping Like a Baby ‘and ‘Toddler Tactics’ (Penguin Random House). See Pinky’s books and recording packages HERE