Every year I find late November & early December can be extremely busy and stressful if I let it be. Not only is there the end of year dance concerts, Christmas production concerts, sports teams breakups, Christmas social functions but also my son’s birthday is 2 days before Christmas and we have chosen to let him have a birthday party every year. I find that if I implement some practices into my life, then I can cope easier with the stress around this time of year.
- Time with God: I try and make this a priority every morning, but especially during this time of year. I read His Word, the Bible, and spend time listening to Him. I spend time throughout the day and overnight praying about various issues and decreeing and declaring that which is still to become evident. I spend time with God, asking Him to reveal to me the essentials and non-essentials. A great question to ask is, “God, is there a lie that I am believing about how we prepare and celebrate Christmas?” If God places something on your heart or mind, then confess that lie to God and ask for His forgiveness. We then have a divine exchange with God – if He reveals a lie to you that you are believing, then He always wants you to know the truth. God loves questions so ask Him, “What is the truth you want me to know?”
- Be intentional: I try to intentionally remind myself to be grateful and thankful. During these last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time transporting the kids to their dance classes, concert rehearsals, end of year breakups etc. Hubby’s work is flat out in the lead up to Christmas so I need to do all the kids stuff and the Christmas preparation. I have found that I need to remind myself not to complain about this time but to look for the positives. I have been trying to watch what I say and try to focus on the heart attitude.
- Choose wisely: I have found that indecisiveness gobbles up a lot of time, emotional energy and space in my thought life. I challenge myself when buying presents with “will my decision about this present matter in 4 years time?” If not, then I don’t allow the present choice to take up more than a few minutes of my time. I am teaching myself to make quicker decisions, thus allowing myself more time to spend on other things. I choose not to spend hours trawling the shopping centre looking for gifts. This can also apply for choosing wisely what we permit our children and family to be involved in during this season. Saying ‘yes’ to something means that we need to say ‘no’ to something else.
- Diet/health/lifestyle: I find if I limit sugar during this time, headaches disappear as well. Walking daily and eating healthier give me more energy and emotional stability to cope with what comes my way. I find this also true with my 12 year old son. The foods he eats certainly impacts his behaviour and ability to control his emotions when extremely tired.
- “Big Rocks” in place: Every year I map out in my diary the “big rocks” we want to achieve and those we can let go for this year. Our family loves the “Road to Bethlehem” drama production run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but this year, we have had to sacrifice that for various other activities – something the whole family agreed on. A ‘big rock’ every year is Matey’s birthday. Thus, we tailor our calendar around that in the lead up to his birthday.
- Lower expectations: Disappointment occurs because our expectations haven’t been met. Reframe expectations in your mind. I have found that I can’t control other people’s behaviour (outside of your parental influence) so I release them from pressure to act in a specific manner. I find this freeing especially in respect to extended relatives and their methods of involvement or non involvement in my children’s lives.
- Sleep: Grumpy kids are usually tired and hungry kids, so I try to keep meals at their usual times. When we have events when a meal will be late, I feed the kids earlier. Now the kids are getting older (Princess 14, Matey 12), it is easier, but we still try to have a substantial snack before we go to a late meal.
- Prepare children beforehand: Before we go to an event, I outline the behaviour guidelines I wish to see expressed by my children at that event. They then have a clear expectation and reminder of how they are to behave. I also try to involve my kids as much as possible in the food we take, discussing the activities we are involved in over the coming week etc. This helps them realise what is coming up and no huge surprises that can rock the boat. I like to try and look at events through the children’s eyes and how they will see things. I also try to create positive memories that they can store away in their memory bank.
- Recognise the myth of “you can have it all”. It is a myth. You can’t have it all. Don’t even try or something will suffer. List the non-essentials. We love the Myer Christmas windows in Melbourne City but find that we are so busy in the lead up to Christmas, we don’t try to push it in. Most years, we contend ourselves with seeing it after Christmas. I love baking and making gifts for people but most years, I have to let go of some of my plans as I can’t do everything.
- Trim down your activities, presents, food & expectations: Something that has caused a great deal of agonising over in the past is the Christmas presents for the extended family. Several years ago, my family interstate cut out presents for each other. This year, I tentatively approached hubby’s sisters to suggest could we possibly stop Christmas presents for the nieces and nephews. I tried to frame it in a nice way and they immediately totally agreed with how I was feeling and wholeheartedly agreed to my suggestion since it would relieve a huge burden from the family. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can simplify things.
- Have fun, laugh, celebrate: This is the crux of this season – Jesus came to bring life. It is a time of celebration. How can you keep the reason for the season as your main focus? We have received the greatest gift and we set the example for the rest of our world of influence. How do others around you see you enjoying this time?
- Try not to medicate the pain: The media’s portrayal of ‘happy families’ and the ‘perfect’ Christmas, together with loneliness, grief, loss and false expectations can cause some of us to ‘medicate’ ourselves with perfection, alcohol, endless shopping, busyness. Instead, we need to address the underlying issue in our life.
- Give: generosity is a great antidote for so much. Look for small ways to daily give. Brainstorm with your children, look for people who may find Christmas hard for whatever reason – loss of a loved one this year, single parents, family dysfunction, people overlooked by society and so on. This year we have used an ‘Acts of Kindness’ Advent Calendar to help keep the focus on others and not on ‘entitlement’ & what we want.
- Plan rest: Plan in a time of rest after a busy weekend. Prepare ahead of time for some time out to chill. It doesn’t benefit anyone if we are stressed out and so busy that we can’t stop to help someone or if it changes our behaviour and allows anger and moodiness to surface. This year we have had Matey’s birthday party a full week ahead of his birthday. This afternoon we had dance presentations and we are about to go to the Junior Fire Brigade demonstration and BBQ as Matey is a junior fire brigade officer. After that, we have an ‘empty’ week apart from Friday’s trip to the cinema to see Star Wars with the neighbourhood friends. Thus, we have plenty of room to move and enjoy this time and also not to begrudge the unexpected.
- Involve the whole family: what jobs can they do, what presents can they buy, what cards can they write to save you from doing everything.
- Be in a good emotional place yourself: Your attitude sets the atmosphere in the home. If you are tired, grumpy, anxious, short tempered, then expect the kids to model that behaviour, taking after you.
- Activity box: Depending on the age of your children, have a specific box of activities that are different from the normal stuff for your children that they can amuse themselves with when you need a break during this time. Limit their time playing with the things in this box to just when you need some time without them hassling you. If you have preschoolers, google “Christmas sensory box” for some ideas. Maybe grab a sticker book they have never seen before, let them make Christmas cards, have a new DVD or books available etc. It is so easy and tempting to let the television be a babysitter, especially at this time of year when you can be so busy and tired and need a break. Just be aware that the television will actually stimulate your child and increase their sensory overload so even though you may get a ‘break’, the behaviour afterwards can be worse. One year we banned television in the lead up to Christmas and that was the year that they played so well together and used their imagination heaps more, besides sleeping an extra hour each night etc. Which would you prefer – immediate gain or a more peaceful child?
What do you specifically do during this time to ‘enjoy the journey’ amidst the busyness? I would love to hear your thoughts?