by Kate Novian
All right, I don't usually write a lot, but I wanted to give some tips on the holidays, as it has been on my mind lately. The Christmas holidays are upon us, and often, the break brings with it some unique challenges, especially when family is involved. Wondering what activities to do with the kids, trying to figure out how to get them away from their electronics (and to avoid it ourselves), balancing routines with out of the norm, festive events, and listening to grandparents and relatives tell us how to do our jobs can all raise the stress level... unless we are proactive! So, here are some tips on celebrating the holidays:
Tip #1: Planning Makes Perfect
Have you ever had that friend who lives by their planner and somehow manages to do 37 hours of work and activities into a normal 24 hour day? That type of planning is not easy to achieve, but it can be done. It just requires us to spend a little time up front so that we are using our time as wisely as possible. Generally if everyone sits down to plan, it can be ready to go in less than the time of a TV show.
Step 1: Brainstorm and list
Get out that day planner. notepad, calendar, or scrap of napkin. It doesn't matter what you write on, but having your To Do List visually available make a difference, and allows everyone else to input their own needs and wants. There is nothing that annoys me more than thinking I know what I need to do only to find out that my son promised his friend he would be available to play basketball at 3:00 and my husband wants to get a bottle of leather cleaner at Home Depot after I've just left HEB.
A. Things I already know about: Make a list with everything that is scheduled (has a start and/or end time) for the week before you start figuring out whether to go to breakfast before errands or wait to eat until you've done the shopping.
B. Things my SPOUSE knows about: Ask the other ADULTS in your house to disclose their scheduled needs which are in addition to your list. Make sure you figure out transportation (who is driving which car at what time) so that everyone can get where they need to go. Look at travel times, and make sure you know when to leave for what event.
C. Things my KIDS haven't told me yet: Ask the KIDS in your house to tell you their destinations. Is there any conflict with an activity required by the adults? Is there anything that will make the ADULTS lives difficult, it will probably have a negative impact on their relationship with the kids, therefore setting everyone at each others' throats. Resolve the conflict or remove the activity from your list.
D. Shopping lists and Chores: Now the ADULTS get to chime in with needs. keep in mind that this does NOT include "getting my nails done at the salon" or "watching the football game." Needs include chores that must be done for the family as a whole, such as paying the bills, cooking or picking up food, and shopping lists.
E. Children in NEED: KIDS' turn. What do they need. Are they short on toiletries that you don't have on your grocery list? Do we have everything we need for the overnight trip to Grandma's house? Are medications filled? Are there props for the Christmas pageant that need to be purchased or assembled?
F. Festivities: What is on your lists for presents, party supplies, etc. that would be nice to have but aren't true NEEDS? Is there a girlfriend to purchase a gift for? Did anyone think of a free concert that might be cool to attend if we have time? Is there any decorating or such which hasn't been done yet? This is also where "want to dos" go: that football game or nail salon appointment.
G. Not now: In our every day lives, we notice things that need to get done "soon" but which DON'T have to be done at any specific time, or which would be great "eventually." These things can pile up and become more noticable during the holidays. Keep a "Later List" somewhere in your home where any of these things can be written down and done... AFTER the holiday. This time of year is hectic enough. Don't add to it!
Step 2: Priorities
Now it's time to go through the whole list, and figure out when, and by whom, everything will be done.
A. Look at your shopping lists: Group everything in terms of proximity to your scheduled events. Remember to go to the grocery store only when you can come home right after! Is the nail salon next to the Home Depot and the grocery store? Could that "want to do" be done while other things are being taken care of?
B. Divide it up: Can you divide the shopping list between two or more people in your house? Is there something that only one person can take care of? Can an older child (like your 17 year old, not your nine year old) handle the trip to Hobby Lobby while you are making the little one's party hat for school? Can your younger child fold towels, while his grandparents finish wrapping the presents? Divy up the responsibilities, and don't forget to give the kids a role to play! This will help your family get everything done, but it will also create a chance for your family to bond over the things that need to be done. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to say, at the end of the day, "I did this, and it helped," but so often, our kids are left out of this pattern, and getting them to do things "right now, because I said so" usually produces negative results. The key to getting children to help with "to dos" is to plan it out with them ahead of time, and get them involved in the conversation. If your kid has a tendency toward screen time addiction or just resists helping, then give them some options of what they would like to help with, and make sure its not just their least favorite thing to do. If they feel some control over what they need to do, they are more likely to accept it, and to put more effort into it.
C. Eliminate anything that is impractical. Do you have anything on your list that really conflicts with your priorities? Is there anything you originally thought "Oh, this would be fun and Christmas-y... Let's add that!" but now see that it will bring more stress rather than enjoyment? Take it off the list, or find a time to do it that won't conflict.
D. Review the list with EVERYONE old enough: and that includes kids and teens. Generally, if they are old enough that they have some time awareness (around 5 years old) then they can be included in the conversation. This way, if something isn't done on time, then no one can say, "I didn't know I had to do it NOW!"
Step 3: Carry out your plan.
There is nothing quite so annoying as beginning with a list and not getting to half of it. If someone else has a job to do, it is THEIR job to do it, not yours. Don't spend your holiday picking up the slack for everyone else, and don't let them slack off! Ultimately, if everything gets done, then there is more free time to enjoy the holiday TOGETHER doing what your family values. It may be a family activity, or it may be individual activities done in proximity to the others in the family, but there will be more peace now that all the "to dos" are "done."
Tip #2: What to DO?
As I prepare for a Christmas alone with my husband, I'm quickly realizing that Christmas plans for ADULTS are actually pretty limited, as most things are designed for families or children. However it is just as important to reconnect with your spouse/significant other/other adults in your life. Come up with at least 3 things to do which are specifically adult. Try to make sure that your activity is designed to help you connect.
A. K-I-S-S (Keep it Simple Stupid!) Most of the time, when my husband and I think about what we "want to do" it really comes out as "what I WISH we could do, even though we can't" which becomes quite disappointing really, and does nothing to bring happiness to our holiday. To compensate, we ten to make GRAND PLANS, which may or may not play out well. Reconnecting really can be done by K-I-S-Sing. It could be playing Christmas music and having a glass of mulled wine while talking about your worst/best Christmas growing up, the traditions that made the holiday feel special, and, if you've been together for a long time, what your dream holiday might be, as long as the understanding is that it is a DREAM and not a PLAN. Think up some questions ahead of time that help you to learn things about your other half which are new to you. Topics which typically cause disagreements should be strictly off limits. NO EXCEPTIONS!
B. Alone AT LAST! If you have kids and/or family around, GET AWAY FROM THEM FOR A WHILE. Get a babysitter, send them to Grandma's for a few hours, or kick them out of the house to go play. Find some alone time with your spouse where you can turn into kids youreselves: go find Christmas lights, find a park and stargaze under a blanket, watch a movie, have a dinner (in a restaurant or in the back seat of the car it doesn't matter). Go find a secluded spot and spend some time separated from the world and all your responsiblities.
C. Finding some PASSION: If your pocketbook has some stuffing left after Christmas shopping, head out to a romantic bed and breakfast or hotel, but if not, bunk down in your own master bedroom, string some Christmas lights up on the headboard and down the blinds, heat up some cider or pull out some beer/wine...chocolate sauce... what have you, and put on something jazzy. Plan out your time so you remembr to put on that slinky something or other and shave your legs ladies! Wear a clean set of boxers boys! If you need some help getting the party started, try a game of go fish... strip style, or challenge each other to come up with Christmas-themed innuendos. Hold a private contest to find out who can do their best "Santa Baby" impression, or get the left over gingerbread house supplies and decorate each other... Be creative, be saucy, but above all, have fun getting your Christmas bells to ring.
D. Don't forget Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas morning: If you have kids in the house, set a limit for how early they can come down, and make sure you get some coffee first! Plan on opening one thing from each other before the wrapping paper starts flying: maybe a letter or card, or maybe a small gift. Send a message to your honey about how you feel for them but keep it small. Play Santa by putting it in your spouse's stocking or hiding it for them to find.
E. Sugar Rush: If you don't have children under foot, then be the kids yourselves. Instead of calmly opening your presents by the fire and thanking each other sweetly, wrap everything in way too much paper and LET IT RIP! Turn unwrapping presents into a competition to see who can make the bigger mess. The loser has to clean up! If you don't have a lot to give each other then get gift card holders and put messages in them instead. Better yet, hide the actual present (which could be something silly, small, or handmade) somewhere unexpected and put memories and clues in wrapped packages along the way. Just to make it better, try to make enough clues that you have one memory and clue for each year you have been together. This one takes some planning and thought, but if you use different kinds of wrapping paper (one kind for each of you) and hide them really well, you might be suprised how much fun it is to search and what memories are recalled!
F. Classic night out: Dressing up for the holidays is a matter of preference, but I just love the chance to wear my little black dress... which is actually red... and I love seeing my husband in coat and tie. Regardless of the dress code, plan a night out on the town. Make the destination a place you've never gone together, or make it your absolute favorite place to go. Remember, it doesn't have to be extravegant. You can go to McDonalds all dressed up if you want. Who cares! Go dancing, or to a movie, listen to a free concert at the local church, or go to a club downtown. Go on a DATE. When's the last time you did that?
There is no shortage of available activities for families and children over the holidays, so I'm not going to go into them all, but make sure you spend some time talking, as a family, about what the season means to you. If you are Christian or Jewish, then take the oportunity to share your faith. If not, then talk with your kids about what it means to you. Do you know what it means to them?
A. I will suggest that you also use the holiday season to expose your kids to some higher culture: Listen to Handel's Messiah or go to a Pops concert. Check out Dickens' Christmas Carol and read it aloud or watch a play.
Well... I had a ton more to write, but I've been at this for two hours, so I'm going to wrap it up now. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy New Year.