As a parent, you likely cherish those (rare) moments where your child happily plays on their own. There’s a palpable sense of relief when you finally get a ten-minute window to complete a chore, draft an email, respond to a client or customer, finish a cup of coffee, schedule an appointment, or simply enjoy five minutes of silence. Especially during the holiday season.
Then, your precious child says, “Come play with me, Mommy.”
What is my knee-jerk reaction? ::Sigh:: This little human is trying to torture me.
Of course, it’s the exact opposite. He’s extending an invitation. These five words are packed with meaning, significance, and childlike optimism.
In these moments, we have a choice.
There are undoubtedly times when I need to finish a task and tell my little guy that I need a few minutes. As he’s gotten older, I’ve found that telling him exactly what I’m going to do helps in two ways. First, it holds me accountable for completing the one task. Second, it helps me to determine whether it can wait.
Guess what? Often, my tasks can wait. Over the past three-and-a-half years, I’ve learned more about priorities and time management than in the decades I spent thinking I was good at those things.
The holiday season is the perfect time to accept our kids’ invitations to play.
This year, I’ve challenged myself with one goal: I don’t want to wake up in January and think, thank goodness it’s over. More importantly, I don’t want to miss giving my son the greatest gift—my time.
Why? Behind the card-sending, cookie-exchanging, Elf-hiding, gift-giving, holiday-partying, house-decorating, invitation-accepting, ornament-hanging, list-making, meal-prepping, online-posting, photo-taking, program-attending, Santa-finding, tree-lighting goodness is an utterly exhausted parent.
Unfortunately, I see it—or experience it—every year. We get so wrapped up in all that the holidays have to offer that we often end up burned out, stressed out, and relieved when it’s over. The result? We miss out on joyful moments with our families.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we skip the holidays! I love this time of year. But taking 20-30 minutes this week to plan for the season will help you choose more joy—and less stress—this year. Here are 5 ways to remain MERRY:
Make your list and check it twice
It’s no secret that minimalism is in. This year, we’re using the something he wants, something he needs, and something he reads technique. After coining the term “Christmas tree list,” my little guy has requested a bicycle, a matchbox car garage, a Snoopy, and a train set. We’ve submitted his requests to the appropriate sources along with a few necessities like books, clothes, and a new pair of sneakers.
Extend and receive grace for saying no to an activity
There are only a handful of Saturdays in December. This coming weekend, we’ve been invited to five different holiday events. Obviously, we cannot be in five places at once. With or without an explanation, it’s time to graciously decline invitations (with adequate notice!) and remember to expect—and respect—that others will likely do the same. Tip: Replace “we’re too busy” with “thank you for the invitation, but we’re unable to attend this year.”
Respect your budget and space
If you follow a budget and have space constraints, it’s important to fight the temptation to re-create something beautiful (yet impractical) that you saw on your favorite Instagram page. Set aside others’ expectations and decorate your home with the things you love and can afford. My heart is happy with a real Christmas tree and a couple of lights outside. Though I’m not winning an award for it, this keeps us within our budget while adding warmth and joy to our home. And yes, I’ll hit Target after the season and snag some clearance Hearth & Hand!
Rest and unplug
In many ways, I think these two go hand in hand. When I’m constantly connected, I find myself constantly distracted. I’m not at rest. If possible, try to unplug for a significant portion of your holiday gatherings. Sure, snap photos and share them with family and friends. But try not to spend hours on end checking messages or mindlessly scrolling through social media images. Every minute plugged in is a missed opportunity to engage with the ones right in front of you. If we expect older children and teens to do the same, then we need to remember that we’re setting the example.
You and me time
Schedule uninterrupted time with your child just like you would schedule an appointment, event, party, or meeting. It can be as simple as a 5-minute Elf-hunt, a 10-minute breakfast, a 15-minute walk before dinner, or a bedtime routine that incorporates a simple holiday tradition. For example, I’ve blocked off time after school to play with and read to my son. Before bed, we’re hiding the Star from Afar. And, every Sunday, I’m lighting the next Advent candle and choosing a new verse to display on a letter board. Remember to keep it simple and tailor this time to fit your family’s rhythm.
Though I’m not an expert, I’m confident that my son is going to remember the time we spend together at Christmas more than the toys he receives.
Here’s to exercising more presence—and less perfection—this holiday season!