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How Parents Can Feel More Joy, Less Stress This Holiday Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and excitement, and it is … if you’re a little kid who hasn’t a care or commitment in the world other than getting their wish list to Santa on time. But if you’re a parent, you know the real deal about the holiday season: it’s hard. Because as much as we love seeing our kids enjoy themselves, being the one responsible for an entire family’s festive enjoyment is stressful on a whole other level. As if we don’t have enough to do on a normal day, let’s cram in ALL the holiday magic! Who needs downtime between loads of laundry and taxi-driving duties when we could be dirtying up the kitchen with baking endeavors and creatively posing the elf everywhere but on the shelf, right?!

If your blood pressure rose a few notches just reading that, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a guide to feeling less stress and more joy this holiday season. By remembering a few key things, and being strategic in a few areas, you’ll be as merry and bright as everybody else gets to be. Promise!

Remember: ‘Tis the Season To Be Greedy

We’re not talking about materially greedy (although there are definitely folks out there who missed that memo … ahem). We’re talking about being “greedy” with your time, and your energy. Put yourself first! Just like you can’t run a marathon if you’re already exhausted, you can’t make anybody else’s holidays jolly if you are so burnt-out you can’t see straight. Put on your own proverbial oxygen mask first before you worry about anyone else. If you are unhappy and stressed and resentful, it will seep into everything you do and everyone you come in contact with, whether you mean it to or not!

Comparison Really Is the Thief of Joy

We need this reminder regularly, if not daily — but especially during the holiday season: what you see on social media is not the whole story. It’s not the big picture. For every Instagram photo you see of a smiling family impeccably dressed in matching sweaters at a wholesome Christmas tree farm, there’s a “behind the scenes” which, if you could actually see it, would tell a different tale. Social media is literally the highlight reel of someone else’s life — not the standard by which we should be judging our own. Now more than ever, it’s important to keep that fact at the forefront of our brains. Which brings us handily to the next point …

Keep Your Holiday Expectations Reasonable

You know how sometimes, when you’re at the beginning of a new day and feel (at least minimally) refreshed, you make all these grandiose plans about how you’re going to maximize every single hour? You’re going to be a productivity powerhouse! But then, as the actual day wears on — and wears on your nerves and your resolve — you realize that while you may have intended to do all the things, it isn’t actually working out that way.

The holiday season is no different; we so often begin it with a bucket list of festive fun we’re going to have, and are ready to tackle each activity and event with gusto. It doesn’t take long, though, to go from optimistic to overwhelmed. So when you’re thinking about all the things you’d like to do to celebrate the season, it’s best to start with the bare minimum — that way, you can add things in and feel like you’ve gotten extra, rather than having to take things out and feel like you’ve failed to accomplish something. Choose only the traditions that mean the absolute most to your family, the things you genuinely look forward to every year. Everything else after that is optional!

The Word ‘No’ Can Be Your Biggest Holiday Helper

This holiday season, perfect the art of saying “no” like you’re a toddler who’s just discovered the word. Let it fly out of your mouth with abandon! Your kid’s teacher asks you to volunteer for a class party you simply don’t have time for? No. You’ve been invited to a white elephant gift exchange outside of office hours with co-workers you feel mediocre about? No. Basically, it’s time to go all Marie Kondo on those proposed plans: if they feel more like obligations than things that will bring you joy, or if the mere thought of trying to squeeze them in makes your stress skyrocket, just nope them right off your radar. It’s OK! And besides …

Over-scheduled Kids Aren’t Fun For Anybody

Have you ever been on, say, a family trip and tried to squeeze everything in — and then realized, as your child is having a meltdown over something tiny, that you’ve probably tried to do too much? We all know how kids get when they’re exhausted and sugared up. Ain’t nobody got time for all that. So you’ve got the perfect built-in excuse to say no: your kids!

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Throttle It Back on the Toddler Gifts

It can be tempting to ply your infants and toddlers with piles of presents that are taller than they are, but let’s face it: they’re all just going to play with the boxes and wrapping paper anyway. Plus, they won’t remember their first few holiday seasons, so why add more stress and financial burden trying to buy, and wrap (not to mention find a place for!) a ton of gifts for the littlest members of your family? Give them a couple of things to unwrap so they can join in the fun, and call it good.

Got older kids? Have them make you a wish list so there’s no guesswork about what they want. Tell them to make it as long as they can and include things from all price points, so you have a variety to choose from. It’s like a holiday gifting cheat sheet!

Be Totally Unashamed of Cutting Corners

Buy the pre-packaged cookie dough (or the entire pre-packaged cookie) and the frozen appetizers. Take advantage of the store’s gift-wrapping. Use the (recycled, sustainably sourced) paper plates. Only clean the portion of your house that people will actually be in. Cut corners and outsource everywhere you can, and feel zero shame — those options literally exist to make our lives easier, so take advantage! And similarly …

Don’t Hesitate to Delegate!

Yes, it would be awesome to present your holiday guests with a Martha Stewart-worthy spread that you did all by yourself, from cocktails to cake. But if you’re like most of us and also trying to work, raise kids, run a household, and juggle all the responsibilities that come along with those things, a Martha Stewart spread should be reserved for, well, Martha Stewart. If you’re generous enough to open your home to guests for a holiday celebration, don’t feel one iota of guilt for asking guests to bring a side dish or dessert or whatever else means one less thing you have to purchase, cook, and clean up after. Know somebody crafty? Ask them to pitch in by making a centerpiece or place cards. Oh, and speaking of cards?

Holiday Cards Don’t Have to Be a ‘Thing’

Sending holiday cards and overly-optimistic update letters might be a tradition, but it’s one we can easily ditch thanks to social media. Spare yourself the time and expense; we all see each other’s families and updates on a near-constant basis, so why bother? If you can’t let go of the tradition completely, only send cards to those whose Instagrams you’re not scrolling on the regular.

Pencil Quiet Time Into Your Holiday Calendar

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, waiting for downtime to fall into your lap will leave you doing just that: waiting. Yet those chill moments of zero obligation are vital to our mental health and stress levels, especially at this time of year! Treat downtime like an event. Clear something off your calendar to make room if you have to. Pencil it in, plan for nothing else, and spend an evening vegging out in front of the TV with your family (or binging Hallmark movies alone in your bed — no judgment!). Wear holiday jammies if you wanna make it feel festive.

Planning Is Definitely a Necessary Evil

We know, sitting down and taking the time to plan things out feels like just another chore to add to that pesky to-do list. But hear us out: planning ahead can save you a ton of stress in the long run and you’ll be so glad you did it. Nobody’s asking you to construct flow charts and complicated spreadsheets here — even bare-minimum planning, whether it’s a grocery list for a holiday meal so you’re not scrambling last-minute or a budget outline to help you stick to what’s reasonable, will do wonders. The great thing about the Internet is that it’s a treasure trove of free cooking timelines, budget calculators, and templates to help get your festivities organized. But while you’re planning, remember the most important thing …

You Are the Holiday Magic

When all is said and done, it isn’t the stuff that matters, or the events you attended, or the number of traditions you managed to cram in. When your kids look back as adults on their childhood holidays, what will stick out most are the feelings associated with those times, not the specifics. You don’t have to overextend yourself and your budget to make things magical — because when you allow all those stressors to take a backseat and the joy to creep in, that’s when the real holiday magic happens.

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