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The holidays have definitely arrived.
Over the weekend, we went to our neighborhood's annual kick-off event, with cookies and hot chocolate, a luminaria walk, and local high school musical groups playing Christmas songs. Ella must have said fifteen times, "This is the best night EVER."
On Saturday, once our houseguests have left, we'll be pulling out all our holiday decorations (I cannot wait!).
I feel like it's taken me several years to hit my parenting stride when it comes to the holidays, but this year, I'm excited for another chance to get it right as we celebrate our favorite time of year.
Here's what's worked for us to make it a joyful time of year with minimal meltdowns from either adults or children:
1. Pick the things you really want to do most. If your community is anything like mine, there's just an abundance of things to do during November and December. I try to remember that basically all of my best holiday memories are either of being at home (reading Christmas books by the fireplace, eating our traditional Shepherds' Meal on Christmas Eve, or sleeping under the tree a few days before Christmas) or the few community things we did year after year. This year, we'll be hosting a gingerbread party at our house for Ella and Ani and a few little friends, visiting the Mesa Temple to see the lights, riding the Christmas train at the Scottsdale Train Park, and spending plenty of time cuddled up at home as a family. I don't want it to be an exhausting month with too many missed bedtimes, worn-out children (and parents), and constant driving around to various events. That doesn't sound very magical to me.
2. Dress appropriately. In the past two weeks, it's finally started getting chilly in the evenings here and I have to remember that when we'll be outside for longer periods of time, we actually need to wear things aside from sandals and tees. There's nothing worse than dragging everyone out to a fun holiday event and then everyone being too cold or uncomfortable to enjoy it. With the cooler weather, I'm loving the chance to pull out sweaters and scarves and jackets again, and I'm obsessed with these cute new boots we all got from Rack Room Shoes. I love that they feel wintery and cute, but are comfortable enough for us to walk from a distant parking lot or run all over a playground or just have an impromptu dance party (my life involves a lot of those with these little munchkins who never met a tune they didn't like). I love what fun details each pair of boots has, whether it's the lace-ups on Ella's or the deep cut-out on the sides of mine or the buckles on Star's or the quilting on Ani's.
3. Set everyone's expectations. I've found that it makes a world of difference for our whole family if we have a brief chat before an outing about what's going to happen and what to expect. When we went to the neighborhood event, Bart was out of town, so I was handling the girls on my own, plus I knew they'd be up past their bedtime. So beforehand, I told them what would happen ("we'll walk over, there will be music playing, we'll get some cookies and hot chocolate, then we'll walk around the lake and see the lights, then it'll be time to go home") and how many cookies they could each have (2) so that I wouldn't spend the entire night negotiating over an extra Oreo or ten. Everyone was super good, and I was so glad they'd known what to expect (and we've done this wrong so many times, that I know firsthand what a difference it makes).
4. Remember that they're kids. As a parent, I want the whole holiday season to be one long magical family experience, but I've come to recognize that the holidays can also be tough on little ones. Your schedule is totally thrown-off by late nights, travel, and new routines, there's so much excitement that it can be hard to handle (Ella woke up sobbing last night at 10 p.m. because she could hardly stand to wait another night to play with her cousins - who, it might be noted, had already been here for a day and a half, playing with her non-stop), and there's all these expectations around presents, Santa, family, and everyone's emotions are dialed up extra high. I try to recognize that everyone probably needs a little extra sleep and more snuggles during this time, and keep my cool so that a three-year-old meltdown doesn't lead to a 31-year-old one alongside it.
5. Plan ahead. I try to remember that almost everything is optional during the holidays (if we don't go caroling, no one will die) and that everything will take the same amount of time early in the month as it does late in the month, but won't cost me a fortune in shipping. I like to sit down during the week of Thanksgiving with Bart and make a list of gifts we're planning to get, set a budget for those gifts, figure out what things we need to order like Christmas cards or have family photos taken, choose the family outings and at-home activities we'll be doing, and what we most want from the holiday season. Last year was one of the first years where we were really on top of our Christmas gifts, and it made such a huge difference in how much I enjoyed the holidays.
What are your tricks for making the holidays delightful instead of stressful?
Also! Rack Room Shoes is running a Babies First Kicks contest that starts December 4. You cna enter by uploading a family photo featuring their child wearing a favorite pair of shoes for a chance to win a prize package of shoes and a gift card.
Photos by Grace + Vine