I love Christmas. Even before I had children, it was my favourite time of year. I’m sure it’s the same for most people, though I know there are also many out there who feel it is an a) overdone and b) overrated – especially those who feel increased loneliness. I get it. My first Christmases on the farm – away from my own family – were some of the loneliest I have ever experienced.

As my children got older, Christmas became fun again. I got more sleep. They got more excited. My husband would increasingly grumble about the amount of “stuff” and “crap” and we began to develop a set of family traditions that weren’t my family’s, or my husband’s, but our own.

Peak Christmas

Now, I could say we are at peak Christmas enjoyment. We know what we’ll be doing on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Stephen’s Day. We all look forward to some time off to enjoy each other’s company apart from the usual hectic day-to-day that is our lives. Board games, outdoor excursions and cosy films on the couch (with the fire blazing) will all be on the menu for that lazy week between Christmas and New Year’s.

The only thing standing between me, my family and that cosy, lazy time is 10 days in which we need to squeeze cookie decorating, play dates, school concerts, music classes, feeding cows, family dinners, the ubiquitous Santa visit and a mound of Christmas and grocery shopping.

I think in my haste to create our own traditions, I might have gone a bit too far.

When your children are little, you are always looking for ways to make the holiday season magical for them and meaningful for you. They aren’t in school or outside activities – besides maybe a fun ballet class or baby and toddler groups. You don’t realise that your children are going to grow up and someday be expected to take part in so many extra-curricular and social activities that you will have a hard time keeping up.

When my youngest was old enough to go into childcare, I went back to work full-time. While I missed them during the day, I was – for the most part – also glad for the break from being the constant “primary caretaker”. You don’t realise that your kids will get older and more independent and you won’t always look at work as an “escape” from the many mundane “mammy tasks”.

Now, I find myself in the impossible situation where I have a full-time job, my kids have school and loads of outside activities (all with special Christmas events attached to them) and – icing on the cake – we now have a slew of festive traditions which will be sorely missed if they didn’t happen each year.

I’ve written before about the invisible work load of mothers – this isn’t the situation in every family with kids, but in most cases, the mother is the parent with the highest amount of emotional labour. We remember the birthdays, dentist appointments, which child likes mayonnaise and which likes butter on their ham sandwiches, how long that load of laundry has been sitting in the washing machine, when the dog was last fed, when the houseplants were last watered, who got who for Secret Santa this year, when the cut-off is to send post to the brother in Australia and – oh yes – we still need to organise a party for the child whose birthday is dangerously close to Christmas.

Add “making the holiday season magical for the kids” to the list and you’ll soon find yourself in the most impossible situation.

Holiday traditions

As I said, I overdid it creating these holiday traditions when my kids were small. I say this to parents of young children: enjoy the peace. As soon as they enter into Junior Infants, your holiday season is officially overbooked. Choose one or two things that are special to you all and focus on those things.

I used to hate it when people would tell me, “These years fly by,” or “They’re only little once,” so I’m not going to say that here. But I will say that there are only so many years when your kids will actually want to spend time with you. My 10-year-old is already touch-and-go regarding being seen with me in public, so I am acutely aware of her childhood years slipping away.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed at this time of year, but it’s important to try and let the minor things go. Let the house get messy. Don’t worry about making everything from scratch. And no – the whole family does not need matching Christmas pyjamas (for the record - I also refuse to do that whole Elf of a Shelf thing).

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