Mum of seven, Jen Hogan, gives us her tried and tested tips for easing the pressure this Christmas.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, dreams of a white Christmas, children on their best behaviour because “he” knows if they’ve been naughty or nice and tidings of comfort and joy bid to all — it’s no wonder that Christmas is seen as the most wonderful time of the year.
But the Christmas songs largely neglect to mention the levels of stress that can go hand in hand with the festivities. With never ending to-do lists and crowds everywhere you turn, having yourself a merry little Christmas can be a challenge in itself.
So extend some goodwill to yourself and banish any Grinch-like feelings that might arise with these tips to ease the pressure and make the most of all the festive season has to offer.
1. Plan your shopping trips
Even the most hardened shoppers amongst us, balk at the thoughts of a trip to a crowded shopping centre without a notion of what we’re looking for. The queues are not for the faint hearted and the shelves are filled with tempting “not necessaries” all dressed up with a glitter bow. Know what you’re looking for before you leave. Check availability and reserve online in advance if you can. And hit the shops you need to first, so that you can leave as soon as you want.
2. Wrap as you go
Rather than letting the mountain of gifts for all the friends and family build and ultimately write off your Christmas Eve, wrap as you go each evening. Take the opportunity too to make sure that gifts are working as they should, check out any assembly required and take note of batteries needed before the wrapping paper goes on.
3. Take offers of help with dinner
If you’re hosting Christmas dinner and someone offers to bring a course — let them! The preparation for additional numbers can be huge so anything that involves less work for you should be accepted without hesitation.
Christmas dinner is about getting together to celebrate and not about showing off your domestic god/goddess skills or lack thereof, so play to your strengths and suggest help where you need it most.
4. Share the load
Christmas often means visitors and a need to have your house looking in tip top shape — no mean feat if you’ve an abundance of kids running around undoing your efforts before you even manage to move onto the next room.
Put their energies to good use and delegate, reminding reluctant helpers that Santa is watching and finalising his lists. But cut them some slack too, their standards will not be the same as yours so don’t nit-pick and see their help for what it is — their best efforts and a few less things for you to do.
5. Don’t overcommit yourself
Christmas shows, work parties, sports club celebrations, drinks with neighbours and friends, extended family visits and nuclear family activities — it can all add up to a Christmas period run ragged.
There are of course some things that you have to go to (and want to go to) but accepting all invitations will just leave you feeling frustrated with very little time to relax and chill, so don’t over commit. Politely decline an invite if your December calendar is already looking pretty full and leave yourself the freedom to spend some time with the people you really want to, and in the manner you really want to also.
6. Time your travel plans if you can
If you’re travelling over Christmas with children, then timing can be everything. Heavy traffic is not pleasant at the best of times — add a few vociferously objecting children to the equation and unpleasant becomes an understatement.
If you’re travelling by road, a journey timed with younger children’s nap times can make for less stressful travels. Have tablets and portable consoles fully charged, download some Christmas movies to keep in with the spirit of things and turn a blind eye to the usual rules about screen time for the journey.
Snacks for the trip can be a welcome distraction too and power banks and in-car chargers will provide the necessary back up if batteries start to run low.
7. Don’t break the bank
Christmas can be a time of huge financial pressure and the temptation to spend more than we can afford and worry about it in the new year is very real — which of course brings its own problems.
A secret santa, with an agreed upper price limit can help to cut some of the cost. If this isn’t an option then it’s important not to get caught up in the moment and stay within your means.
Doing some research beforehand, availing of 3 for 2s and watching out for bargains even at this time of year can make a big difference. Above all, don’t try to keep up with others. It’s the thought that counts and friends and family would in all likelihood be horrified if they thought you were putting yourself under unnecessary financial pressure.
8. Get Santa on board
Of course Christmas paves the way for children to ask for gifts that you don’t necessarily approve of, or that are extremely expensive. Santa is very aware of every parent’s values and accepts that different rules exist in different houses so he never knowingly goes against a parent’s wishes.
This means that age inappropriate games, consoles, phones or pets that you’ve already said no to, will not make their way to your home via Santa’s sleigh. I always explain Santa’s stance on this to my own children ahead of Christmas morning so that there are no unrealistic expectations and in fairness the Man in Red has yet to disappoint them with the alternative surprises he brings instead.
9. Remember to have fun
Most of us will have certain treasured memories from childhood Christmases that represent what was perfect about the festive season for us. Very few of those memories will involve an immaculately presented house or perfectly hosted parties.
They’ll involve time spent with loved ones, playing together, watching movies together and mostly being happy in each other’s company. Life is hectic and the pace just seems to get faster. Take the time over the Christmas holidays to have fun in the simple things and to create your own special traditions and memories that will last a lifetime for everyone.
10. ‘Good enough’ is good enough
Everything doesn’t need to appear perfect. The tree doesn’t need to be perfectly colour co-ordinated or, if you have a toddler, even dressed from the bottom third down. The timings on Christmas dinner may go a little awry and the turkey end up drier than you planned.
Your swan napkins may end up looking less like swans and more like eh… just napkins, and family get-togethers might result in Auntie Mary having too much Christmas sherry and see the conversation take a decidedly frosty turn with Uncle John getting it in the neck. But do you know what, it doesn’t matter, because you can’t control everything. The pursuit of perfection is pointless and good enough really is good enough.
Christmas is what you make it. And if you doubt that your efforts are really good enough, think of the parents in Home Alone.Their house was fabulous and it even snowed for Christmas — but they were still halfway to Paris before they realised they’d forgotten a child. It’s all about priorities!
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