Ahhhh, the holidays. The most wonderful time of the year, right? Yes! And no.
Yes, because of all the fun activities, yummy treats and presents. No, because of all the fun activities, yummy treats and presents. Like so many things in motherhood, trying to enjoy the holidays together as a family can be a double-edged sword. It’s important to learn how to strike a good balance, but how?
Personally, I’ve been keeping a little notebook for the last few years in which I record all the things that do and don’t work for our family during this fun but potentially stressful season. It’s been very helpful for me to look over these notes each year as I sit down to plan out the month’s calendar. (You’d be amazed at what you forget in a year.)
To give just one example, we are a musical family, which means we have a lot of recitals, concerts, and playing in church or school during the month of December. Those things eat up a lot of time and effort, so I plug them into the schedule immediately to avoid double booking or over-scheduling the family. Because every mom and family is different, having this type of personalized notebook is great for navigating the unique demands of each family’s annual celebrations.
Looking back, I’ve actually noticed that the most helpful notes were the ones that illustrated what not to do. And I can pretty much sum up all the things that do not work for me or our family into three main categories: over-scheduling, overeating and overspending.
This one is big for me. I’m positively nuts for all the special holiday activities going on this time of year. If I could, I would attend “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “The Messiah” sing-a-long all in the same night! Sadly, I’m still learning that trying to do too much often leads to crankiness instead of Christmas cheer as parents and children get off schedule, get behind in school work and get plain old worn out.
Just a few nights ago I dragged the entire family to what I thought would be a wonderful live nativity event, but after being in line for more than an hour, my husband and two oldest children left with a promise to come back for us when it was over. It was a school and work night, and all three of them either had too much homework or work preparations for the next day to allow them to spend what ended up being a three-and-a-half-hour event.
Why was I even trying to do this on a school night? (Along with hundreds of other nuts like myself, I might add.) Well, because we had gone to the Festival of Trees over the previous weekend, and we had work and church parties coming up the next weekend. (See how much I still have to learn?) I’ve simply got to come to grips with the necessity of picking and choosing activities and traditions to enjoy every other year. And that’s OK!
It seems like I spent the first several years of our family’s existence adding to and incorporating new activities and traditions, but now that our kids are older and our lives are more complicated, it’s time to cut back and streamline. Plugging in the “staples” that show up year after year on the calendar first (like our family’s musical events, the work and neighborhood parties, the school and church parties) makes it possible to have a clearer idea of where we can throw in those three-and-a-half-hour events on a school night. (It seems so obvious now.)
The other way we can end up over-scheduling is by failing to schedule time for things like wrapping presents or addressing Christmas cards. I can’t tell you how many years my husband and I have stayed up until 2 and even 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve trying to “wrap up” everything (including the presents) to be ready by morning. Now we try to wrap a present or two a day. And isn’t getting out the annual Christmas card such a project? I can hardly believe I’m doing this, but I think I may send out an e-card this year. Looking at my schedule, I just don’t have the time to do otherwise. (I think we’ll all live.)
Whether it’s the endless parade of sweets, or the tables covered in savories, the holidays are synonymous with overeating. I love to eat, and I love to cook and bake, so the holidays are a perfect opportunity for me to enjoy myself in the kitchen. The funny thing is, if I’m not careful, I don’t end up enjoying myself at all! And I quote from my little red notebook, “Too much sugar, staying up late, and throwing out diet and exercise for the season does NOT make me happy! Go for sanity. Health=sanity.”
Now, I’m not telling anyone to skip their favorite holiday foods because I certainly won’t be doing that. In fact, just tonight I went to a cookie exchange with four dozen of my favorite Russian tea cakes to share, but I am definitely working on finding a balance. For me, that means no more plates of cookies for neighbors, teachers and friends. I just can’t handle the batches and batches of gooey carbohydrates screaming my name from the rafters, so I’ve made a compromise. I give things like peppermint hand soap, candles or CDs as gifts (use your imagination), and then make my family’s favorite cookies in small batches on the weekends leading up to Christmas. (This weekend we’ve already got those yummy cookies from the exchange. Yippee!) I’ve found that when I make tons of cookies all at once, I overeat, I create a huge mess, and I end up feeling sick and crabby, which totally defeats the purpose!
But what about all the stuff coming in from outside sources? Tell yourself you can have one treat a day. Period. Alternatively (if you have no willpower, like someone I know), you can send it to the office with your husband or let your kids enjoy the treats with their friends. As for the holiday parties? Taste, don’t gorge.
I wrote about enjoying the holidays on a budget in my last post, but overspending isn’t just about blowing a hole in your pocketbook. (Though it certainly does that.) Overspending money often means overspending precious time in a shopping mall or online, so it becomes an over-scheduling problem as well.
Most of us need a little reminder that stuff rarely satisfies what we’re longing for at this time of year anyway, so it’s a good idea to try and cut back on our shopping time in exchange for time at home with those loved ones that you’re shopping for! It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need because what you don’t need will never satisfy you.”
It’s also good to remember that children (especially very young children) can only take in and appreciate a small number of gifts before their eyes start glazing over. On top of the stocking stuffers and presents from grandparents or others, a few thoughtful gifts are probably more than enough. Depending on the ages of your children, you may even want to give them just one big coveted gift to go along with all those other “extras.”
Like many people, I have a tendency to throw out all restraint during the holidays (sounds like fun, right?), but I’ve learned that when I do, I always, always, ALWAYS end up feeling out of balance, out of whack, and, yes, a little bit out of my mind. Another one of my all-time favorite quotes that applies to this scenario as well as many others is this: “The paradox of freedom is restraint.”
So if you’re like me and you want to wake up on Jan. 1 with your wits, waistline and wallet still intact, you may want to exercise a little more restraint than usual this year. By using a notebook to keep track of and avoid the things that make you crazy, sick and tired during the holidays, you may just be able to look back and say this truly was the most wonderful time of the year.
QUESTION: What are the “fun” things that actually prevent you from enjoying the holiday season with your family?
CHALLENGE: Get a notebook to keep track of all the things that do and don’t work for your family. You’ll thank yourself next year!