Mette Theilmann from Predictable Parenting shares her tips on how to create a family Christmas that everyone will enjoy.
Let me start by saying that as a Dane I LOVE Christmas! Even the dark cold winter evenings can be magical. It’s a time of the year where we can believe in anything; Santa, elves, angels, miracles, wonders and the love of mankind.
A happy family is based on cooperation, connection and communication. But sadly, for many parents Christmas is a time where we ramp up the stress and add pressure on ourselves to get everything done on time and to perfection.
We want to make sure that everyone, especially the kids, enjoys and remembers this time of the year, which means we can end up overspending, stressing and not enjoying what could be a really special time for us and our family. There is too much should, must, need to and often not enough time, energy or money.
The irony is that our kids will most likely not remember the expensive gifts, the well-cooked turkey or the perfectly decorated house! What they will remember is having parents who are relaxed, present and joining in the magic, fun and all the small traditions that we create together.
The good news is that it is never too late to create your family’s magical Christmas, where you too can enjoy yourself and not just ‘get through it’.
- Agree together: Start with a family chat where you agree on how much you can afford to pay for gifts this year, this way things are clear. Agree on job sharing: make Christmas a joint event and plan the shopping, meal preparation and everyday chores together (setting the table, cleaning up, vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, etc). Make a to-do list together and delegate jobs. Yes, we know we can do it better and faster, but that just makes us a stressed, nagging and disconnected parent! Making everyone part of the preparation for Christmas builds on the positive experience and traditions.
Doing jobs together will give your kids a sense of purpose and make them feel that they are needed, plus it makes you less of a nagging martyr. And by including your kids in the daily responsibilities and chores you set them up for success in the future. They will have learned from home that we all have to chip in in order to have a happy and harmonious holiday. You can also agree to doing a family activity every day or having a screen-free day over the holidays. Ask for help, don’t do it all by yourself: uncles, aunties, grandparents, friends, kids and partners can help too! A happy family is a family based on co-operation and teamwork.
- Change your language: Every time you hear yourself saying ‘I need to’, ‘I should’, ‘must’ or have to’, stop and think, ‘do I really’? before doing what you want to. Also, bear in mind that Christmas is not the kids’ second birthday so tell them that they can wish, dream or hope but not want! Use ‘we’ more than ‘I’. ‘We need to plan the meal’, ‘we need to start writing Christmas cards’, etc. Make Christmas a joint effort.
- Create small important family traditions: It doesn’t need to be anything major or expensive: a family board game that you play every year (we still play the same game we did when my kids were small - they are now 19, 21 and 24 and they still love and look forward to it). Watch a movie with Christmas cookies, an evening walk, sing carols or Christmas songs around the Christmas tree.
Get crafty: make decorations for the house, do small baking projects. You can even start making gifts together for family members, teachers or friends. Anything that is your family tradition. This is what your kids will remember as happy memories.
- Turn up the hygge: Don’t get me started on this! This is the time of the year when we Danes really lay it on thick. We welcome light into the dark with candles.
- Make it all about giving: Again, remember that Christmas is not the kids’ second birthday so teach them to give instead of take or want. Maybe try sitting together and create some simple, small gifts for family, teachers and friends, for example make Hama beads, draw pictures, write poems and frame them. Make cookies, or buy some to decorate, and put them in a jar with a ribbon. Maybe send cards to families and friends together – the options are endless.
- Give up perfection and settle for peace: Yes, nearly everything that’s homemade is the better (and healthier) option, but you being present and happy is even better. It’s ok to buy pre-made food in order to make life easier for ourselves and have more time to be with our family in a relaxed way. Focus on what really matters.
- Forget doing and aim for more ‘me time’: Try to schedule some ‘me time’ every day where you can get out and enjoy the crisp air, or have a bath, read a book or just sit and enjoy a cup of tea where you can reconnect with yourself, recharge your batteries and feel prepared for the festivities. All kids want is for their parents to be happy, so do it for them.
Slow down and enjoy. Remember that you want your kids to look back at a time where you all had a great time, were connected and happy – when it was about the presence, not the presents! So, allow yourself to slow down and enjoy every small but important moment throughout the month of December. Become a be-er, not a dooer - try to stay more connected and focused when you are with your family. Put aside the worries, the chores, your to-do list, cooking, cleaning, shopping. We are human beings not human doings!
Finally, join in the fun: have a snowball fight, make decorations together, make your own wish list, and sing the loudest. This is what your kids will remember and what Christmas is all about!
Mette Theilmann is a parent and family coach, author and founder of Predictable Parenting. If you need support you can book a free discovery call or sign up for more parenting tips on her website.