Keep calm & carol on: Tips on keeping your cool during family time this Christmas
Proper planning and the occasional 'escape route' will help you keep your cool during the Christmastime chaos. Olivia Willis has tips and advice
"It's the most wonderful time of the year...
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you, 'Be of good cheer'
It's the most wonderful time of the year…"
So go the lyrics of the first verse of the Andy Williams classic, and while for so many it is the "most wonderful time of the year", for others it can be the most stressful period too. With demands on your time, wallet and patience, it's easy to get lost in the stress of the festive season.
With presents to find and wrap, food to prepare and plans to organise, many people find themselves feeling the strain as Christmas fast approaches. I personally think that the festive pressure really starts to mount from the beginning of December. Relatives come to stay, work parties loom, as do the pantomimes, the visits to see Santa, the 'must have' gifts, as well as what seems like the endless list of things to do for the big day itself.
All this combined with some late nights, rich food and perhaps a few tipples more than you'd normally have, means that we tend to burn the candle at both ends, making the Christmas stress even worse.
So what can you do to cut down on all that stress?
Start making a list of things you need to do for Christmas this week.
When you care about those closest to you, it is not unusual to want to buy them something special. Sometimes you may feel the pressure to buy something that is outside your price range. Try to remember that presents don't represent what you feel for someone. Don't go into debt. It's so easy to overspend at Christmas. It is a good idea to stick to what you can afford.
While shopping locally has many advantages (and it's always good to support those small local businesses), high streets and big shopping centres just before Christmas can be mayhem. And with hundreds of other stressed people breathing all that same air, online shopping might be a good alternative. You can shop day or night at a time that works for you from the comfort of your own home. You'll not only save time and be less stressed, but will probably save money too, as there are less distractions on the way to the massive queues at the tills.
It's still a tradition in Ireland to send and receive lots of cards so start now, if you can, and write a few cards each night after the kids have gone to bed. Then post them altogether when you have them completed, but don't forget to ask your post office about the last day for international post. Last year I had the sense to type and print my labels. I saved the file and now all I have to do is hit the print button.
The day itself
Christmas day can often mean a full house. It may just be your immediate family; however, it is not unusual to have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all under the one roof for Christmas. This means lots of different demands and personalities to get a handle on.
It is a good idea to remember to try and respect people's space and, if things are getting on top of you, try to take some time out. Pop out for a quick walk or listen to some Christmas carols as you prepare dinner, or take a few moments after dinner to chill in a quiet place (you'll likely find me hiding in the toilet!).
It's a good idea to have some pre-planned excuses to escape from proceedings if they get too stressful. Be imaginative and use things such as leaving the room to make a phone call or perhaps checking on a neighbour. Having a couple of escape routes in the bag will reduce stress and allow you to leave a 'situation', even for a few minutes. It will help clear your mind and relax you.
Most important are the kids
Creating some Christmas magic for your children needs to take priority… We have a saying in our family: 'Christmas is all about the kids'. But the reality is that children can get totally stressed out too by all the rushing around.
So vow to send your own stress on a holiday for their sake, as well as yours.
Try to slow down and lower your expectations as far as the Christmas celebrations go. You and your kids will enjoy your Christmas much more if you are calm and relaxed about the whole thing.
Spend meaningful time together
Call a halt to the preparations and go to see a Christmas film or go for a special meal/treat with your children. Even something as simple as a walk in the park is a peaceful retreat from the Christmastime chaos.
Help your kids see past the presents
Many children get stressed by the materialism of the Christmas season. Talk to them about your own family's cultural (or religious) traditions by chatting to them for a few minutes each day. Kids love to hear about the 'olden days' and nostalgia is good for the soul for you too. It will help young children see beyond the materialism and zone in on the more traditional side of Christmas.
Involve your children
It's easy for the kids to feel left out as you panic, running around like a headless turkey trying to get everything ready on time. Get them involved and give them a sense of purpose within all the festivities by writing up a special 'to do' list for them. Make it fun though: not just jobs! They'll quickly cop on to that.
Don't neglect routine
As far as possible, stick to the mealtimes and bedtimes your kids are used to. Babies and toddlers especially find great comfort in routine and they'll be reassured by knowing that some things continue to stay normal, even amidst the chaos. It will also give you a break in the evening/during naptime, which is so important for you too.
Make sure there's some physical activity in the mix for all the family: exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which help relieve stress and tension. The fresh air will do you all the world of good - and the hot chocolate you make when you get home tastes all the nicer.
Remember to have fun
Remember it's your Christmas too so try to relax and have fun, laugh and be merry. If you find others around you difficult, then try to rise above it. If things don't go exactly according to plan, try not to stress. Instead, laugh about them and make them into fun memories that you can talk about during Christmases to come. Just think that your kids can recant in the future the tale of "that time mum set fire to the turkey!"
Have a great, stress-free Christmas break.
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of Irish family lifestyle website familyfriendlyhq.ie, which has information for parents, things to do, daily articles, reviews, competitions and expert family advice.
Top tips for a cracking family Christmas
If you have a full house this Christmas, don’t waste time on personal issues: Let bygones be bygones. Christmas is not about opening up old wounds.
Don’t hurdle yourself into DIY crafting projects unless you have the time and the resources. If homemade was your wish for this year and it’s not working out, surrender, outsource it/buy it and make it a goal for next year. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s likely that nobody will even notice.
Stick to recipes that you are confident with and good at. Now is not the time to be experimenting, especially if you are feeding the hordes.
Book a delivery slot early with a supermarket that delivers on Christmas Eve, and order your groceries online. Be sure to do this early, as those slots fill up quick.
Limit all the commitments. Try to spend more time at home, instead of packing in all that catching up with everyone prior to Christmas. Instead, schedule a catch up in the New Year when cabin fever will have set in. You’ll enjoy it all the more as January can be such an anti-climax and it’s super to have something in the diary for after all the Christmas crazy.
Do not overestimate how much you can achieve on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Many recipes can, at least in some part, be made ahead of time and frozen thus reducing tasks in the immediate run-up to Christmas Day.
Delegate the responsibility for certain jobs to other family members since this will reduce your workload. Keep your list for next year. It’ll need the odd tweak but will give you reminders of the sorts of things you need to think about.
Know when to stop! Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy yourself. Work towards and try to stick to this goal. Remember that Christmas is mum’s holiday too.