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House rules for busy parents this holiday

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All families want for Christmas are a few silent nights, happy children and a warm sense of love and belonging

As the holidays approach, I’m feeling a little Scrooge-y. I love the lights and the anticipation and seeing the family, but I can get really bah humbug as December wears on. Maybe it’s because I’m juggling work and my childrens’ schedules, or maybe it’s the change in time (my gosh, it stays light late). This year, I am trying to hit the reset button and focus on what the holidays stand for. I want to see the best in my fellow humans and spread love.

When I chat to parent friends, though, I hear a familiar refrain: “It’s all too much. Too many parties, too much pressure to decorate the house and too many gifts. I am exhausted, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

These parents want to have a nice season, but they feel overwhelmed, beaten down and a little bullied by the expectations.

It’s a lot. We could all use more joy and less stress, right? So let’s unpack how we can simplify things and get joy going for everyone.

You are all set to enact a less-is-more policy for gifts, and then you see the Father Christmas letter filled with the latest toys, technology, on-trend clothes and sporting goods.

A little voice begins to whisper sweet insecurities in your ear. Maybe you feel as though you didn’t get many gifts when you were growing up. Maybe you were spoiled rotten. Maybe gifts were given with a dose of guilt. Maybe gifts were unfairly distributed in your family. Maybe times were once good and then went bad.

Regardless, we all have stories around giving and receiving, and most of them aren’t healthy or helpful.

Talk to a friend about it. Say: “I really want to stop the excess, but this is my worry.”

Expressing something aloud takes away its power. You will hear other people have their own emotional hang-ups, and that will make you feel better.

To keep yourself honest, hang up a big sheet of paper. List the four famous gift categories (something you want, need, wear and read). If your children can read, have them add their ideas for gifts. If they can’t read, fill it out with them. When you have purchased your gifts (one from each category), stop.

If you are reading this and you have already gone overboard, no worries. It is not too late to do a course correction. Choose the gifts you know will light up your child’s world and bring true joy. The rest can be tucked away and given as birthday gifts for your child, or even another child.

If you want to be hardcore, you can return some gifts that you didn’t need. Better yet, donate them to a family in need to make their holiday more joyous. The point is: you do not have to give your children everything you have bought. But you are going to have to find some discipline, and be ready to feel uncomfortable.

When I ask parents about their favourite holiday memories, there are common themes: close friends and family, a deep feeling of belonging and warmth, and traditions.

Gifts are considered less important, and no one mentions over-the-top holidays. The memories even border on the mundane, but the feelings of belonging and excitement loom large in their hearts.

Our children are the same. They may tell us they want stuff, but what they truly want is our time and attention.

When the cocktail party invitations are coming in fast and furious or the functions are piling up, take a deep breath, drag out your calendar and get real. Ask yourself these questions:

1 Does this party bring me joy, or do I feel obliged to go? (This also goes for hosting.)

2 Does the event create joy in my family?

3 Do I really want to volunteer for that function, or do I feel obliged because I do it every year?

4 Can I take a year off from attending the event or volunteer opportunity?

5 Can I attend a function and leave early?

Here’s the beautiful thing: If you look at your calendar and ask yourself these questions, you will begin to make decisions that are right for yourself and your family.

This decision-making also goes for cake and gingerbread-decorating activities, white elephant gift parties, and trips to Nutcracker performances or elaborate light displays.

Remember, we are not judging whether the event is good or bad, worthwhile and honourable, or silly and frivolous. We are choosing to own our time and our joy this holiday season. – Washington Post

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