Q. I love my three children, and I want their holidays—and my husband’s and his family, who join us—to be memorable. I tend to get stressed out with so much baking, cooking, addressing cards, buying and wrapping presents, etc. I remember the holidays years ago when my mother was so frantic with preparations. All her “busy-ness” meant she had no time to spend with me or any other family member. I don’t want to be like my mother, stressed out, complaining and unable to spend precious moments with my family and guests. What suggestions do you have for me?
A. It’s a challenge for a mother to remain calm and reserve special, individual time with family members and friends over the holidays, but I have faith that you can meet this challenge. Having faith in yourself is your first step to success. I’ll offer some ideas; you can choose those that work for you, and I’m sure you can come up with additional ideas, too.
1. Get a calendar and write in the chores you can accomplish each day leading up to the holidays. Don’t procrastinate; procrastination creates stress. As you get chores accomplished, you’ll feel energized and have less to do when the children are home and guests ring your door bell.
2. Free up some time by enlisting the children with some chores, too. Make a list for them to chose from. As they agree to certain chores, pencil them in on their own calendar.
3. Have a family session to get the Christmas cards out. The children can each create drawings and write small notes—things like their age, birthday, etc. Make copies and have the kids glue the notes on the backs of their photos, then stick those in the card.
4. Involve all the children in an assembly line, putting together dry ingredients for hot chocolate or cookies in jars for gifts. They could tie scraps of cloth with baker’s twine over the lid and tie on an instruction sheet. This would not only give them attention, but encourage team work, and some of the gifts could be done in advance.
5. Accept less than perfect. Let your husband and family help with whatever they’ll help with. If every present isn’t wrapped perfectly and every chore not done up to your standards, think of it as done with love, not perfection.
6. Play some of your favorite music as you work; this will make or keep you—and those around you—joyful.
7. Bake and freeze cookies ahead of time. Ask friends who are baking cookies, too, if they will swap with you so you have a variety. It is also fine just to buy baked goods.
8. Simplify your menus. For example, some families have a tradition of a favorite soup prepared ahead of time for Christmas Eve. Ask guests to bring something to supplement what you are preparing.
9. Don’t turn down offers of help; it’s probably not in your nature to ask. Maybe guests offer to help and you say you have it under control, but do you? Keep this mantra in mind: “Never turn down help.”
10. Focus on providing attention to each guest and family member. Ask yourself if you have given attention to each one.
11. Keep your sense of humor and loving kindness. If the critical, unhappy, martyr you or the you who expects perfection starts to come out, kindly close the door on her and think up something joyful to say or do.
By doing things ahead of time, simplifying, controlling your attitude and letting others help you, there will be more time to spend on your guests and family, so no one will feel that you are too frantic to give them each a little individual attention. As one of the best mothers I know says, “People are more important than pies and cookies.” May you and all our readers have many special moments with the important people in your lives during the holidays.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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