‘Twas the night before Christmas

            And all through the house

The children were crying

            And so was the mouse.

When all seemed lost

            Christmas ruined again

Soft footsteps pad up to you

            In all the mayhem

“I love you, Mommy.”

            Perfect Christmas after all.

Before Thanksgiving we begin to talk about the busy, hectic holiday season. For some of us, it’s so bad we don’t look forward to the joy of time with family and friends. By the time Christmas Eve is here, we’re ready to run away from all of it.

This is not the Christmas we remember, right? When we were children everything seemed to be joyful and flawless. I do remember one year as a child when our family was so busy with an event at our church that we ended up wrapping presents late on Christmas Eve. I’m sure my mom was tired and tense many years. Childhood memories don’t recall those days.

It was different even twenty years ago. We didn’t feel compelled to take part in every activity or go to every party. There were fewer distractions, such as video games, movies available on T.V., or ever-present mobile device demanding attention.

There was a time when families with small children were somehow exempt from the chaos of holiday events. Now we all feel obligated to do it all. Otherwise we’re depriving our child of … of what?

Now, it’s the night before Christmas and your house feels like anything but the famed poem. Chaos reigns, children cry, you are cranky. It is possible to change it and reclaim the joy we long for.

·      Limit activities. It may be Christmas Eve already, but it’s alright to call the neighbor and say your family is tired and needs to skip the hot chocolate, cookie, caroling waiting-for-Santa party.

·      Maintain routine. Our little ones thrive on routine. They feel more secure when lunch is about the same time each day and bedtime activities are predictable. While we’re talking about it, they and you need their regular bedtime. Don’t be afraid to leave the cookie exchange to get those kiddos in bed at their regular time.

·      Limit screen time. Every Christmas movie ever made is now available in our living rooms. We don’t have to watch them all before Christmas Day. If your family really enjoys It’s a Wonderful Life and it calms the little ones or gives you a few moments of relaxation, go for it. If it gets too late, go to bed. You can always watch it after Christmas.

While you’re at it, put your phone on silent. Nothing can disrupt the hanging of the stockings more than a little electronic device screaming at you.

·      Change expectations. The soft lightning highlighted the tall, full tree with symmetrical decorations. Gifts wrapped in matching paper and ribbon sat beneath. The soft voice of a child recites the Christmas story while the family sits around the glow of a fire.

This is the expectation. When it turns out more like the Griswald family Christmas, we become stressed, cranky, and depressed. We all have visions of a Hallmark Christmas. And it rarely happens. When we lower our expectations everyone in the family relaxes, and there are fewer mishaps. Let’s face it, when we don’t expect a gloriously brown turkey, the lopsided one won’t matter.

One year leading up to the perfect Christmas dinner, I baked numerous pies. A feat of its own; I hate to bake. The next morning, I found that the cat ate out the middle of the pie. After a few moments of terror, I covered the pie with whipped cream and all was well. Perfect pie.

Expectations placed on us by others are harder. When you decide the children’s Christmas play at church is more than your family can handle, others can cause guilt. Sometimes other family members have expectations we can’t meet. These are the hardest. If it’s important to you to meet those expectations, then change something elsewhere.

The final expectation is gifts. Have you always tried to make gifts for all the aunts and uncles? Do they finally get them for Memorial Day? And what about the ever-present push for our children to have every new toy or device? I gave up making gifts after the birth of my second child. I no longer had time to do it and still tend my kiddos.

When you limit television time, your children won’t be seeing the ads for all the glittery, must-have new things.

·      Create traditions. No presents were put under our tree until the nativity scene was in place. The set used has been in my family for decades. This was one way we combined our family tradition with a longtime tradition. Family traditions are important. They provide a sense of stability and a bond of family. Create your own family traditions.

·      Rest. I know this sounds like a pipe dream with excited little ones and cookies to bake. It’s important to plan a time to rest for both our little ones and ourselves. If we know there is going to be an unusually late evening, it’s doubly important.

As you sit this evening watching family open gifts or attend a special holiday event, take time to cherish your loved ones. This moment will never be again. The memory of a calm pleasant Christmas Eve and not-quite-so-perfect Christmas dinner will be forever.

Susan K. Stewart is known for practical solutions to real-world situations. She has published five books, including the Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science for All Ages and Preschool: At What Cost?. She also teaches workshops for moms and homeschoolers online and in person. Susan lives in Central Texas with her husband, Bob, three dogs, three cats, nine chickens, and two donkeys. The Stewarts have three children and five grandchildren. You can read more of Susan’s practical solutions at http://www.practicalinspirations.com. Join Susan at Harried Homeschoolers Facebook group.