Sorry folks! No partridge, no pear tree, and not a single turtle dove. No swans a swimming or maids a milking, and not one lady dancing (let alone nine). Truth be told, I wanted to call this piece “Twelve Things I’ve Learned from Two Decades of Holiday Parenting,” but our titles are almost always short and catchy, so that was out of the question. That said, here are some real-life parenting tidbits. Let me know if you have any to add, and next year, we’ll run a longer list!
1. As my husband always says, “It’s all about the prep!” Getting ready for Christmas is the best part, right? There’s decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping the gifts, and so much more to do before December 25. You have to share the wealth! When the kids first started wrapping presents, I had to sit on my hands and bite my lip to stay out of it. Now, they’re all better at it than me.
2. Trust Santa. When my middle daughter was eight, she asked Santa for dry erase markers. Period. End of list. We had given her the dry erase board for her birthday a month before, and this request was logical and practical. Just like her. Of course Santa would bring the markers like he had promised, but could I leave it at that? No ma’am. I had to go nuts buying lots of extra stuff (for her and her two sisters) that no one even knew they wanted. I recently saw the “4-gift challenge” for kids online, and I love it: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. It’s too late for me, but save yourself!
3. Give fun, not stuff. I often talk about the Great Recession and how it affected my shopping, but it had an equal impact on my parenting. One year, we discovered that we could give awesome activities as gifts, and the kids would enjoy them for the rest of the year, i.e. a season pass to Kings Dominion, or art classes at VMFA, or gymnastics classes at the YMCA. The trick here is in the marketing. If you’re giving the gymnastics classes, you’ll need to make a special certificate and giftwrap it with a book about Simone Biles.
4. Help your kids make “give lists.” My kids spent hours writing and illustrating their wish lists for Santa. I used to ask Santa to commit them to memory and autograph them, so we could take them home with us. They were that good. But don’t forget the “give lists.” Is there something Grandma would like this year? What can she make for Daddy? How about sisters and brothers? Also, if you’re supporting Angel Tree or a similar program, look for a child the same age as yours, and have your child take charge of that outreach effort.
5. Traditions are awesome. Until they aren’t. My youngest daughter is a tradition freak. Every year, she’d insist we do things exactly the way they were done the year before, and she’d get a little unhinged when we didn’t. I figured out we needed to go off-script more often. We would change up our Christmas Eve restaurant every year, for example (even though we will always go to VMFA beforehand). Or – gasp! Put up the tree in a different place.
6. Delegate baking duty. As soon as your kids are old enough, help them figure out their favorite cookie, and let them make a few batches – by themselves.
7. Make your kids responsible for their teachers’ gifts. The kids can use the cookies they made to pull together gifts for their teachers. Your children’s teachers really do appreciate homemade gifts and handwritten notes from their students, and they also appreciate the gift card (to practically anywhere for practically any amount) that Mom or Dad remembered to tuck in at the last minute.
8. Sing your way through the season! When my first daughter was born in late September, I realized most of the songs I had firmly committed to memory were Christmas carols. Silent Night wasn’t exactly in my key, but it was definitely what I was hoping for with a newborn. I think I had my daughters take piano lessons for five years running so I could hear at least one of them peck away at the piano attempting to lead us in Jolly Old St. Nicholas. From the time my kids were little, we have listened to holiday songs from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
I usually pick up a new release each year. Last year, it was “Rockin’ Rudolph” from The Brian Setzer Orchestra. My favorite CD of all time? “Barenaked for the Holiday” by the Barenaked Ladies. It features carols, original and traditional secular classics, and Hanukkah songs, too.
9. To each their own. When my brother chucked Christmas and took his family on a holiday cruise, I’ll admit the judging was serious. Then I swooned over a washer and dryer set I got one year and had to listen to everyone tell me how crazy I was for loving it. Gifts are subjective; your children should know this.
10. Please teach kids not to brag. For better or for worse, every child’s Christmas is going to look different. The last thing you want to hear from the backseat in carpool is any kid going on about the two Ozobots Santa brought him.
11. Save some fun for after Christmas. Why does the majority of winter break come after Christmas, anyway? So we can all sit around and stare at each other? Save at least one family event for after the big day. Try ice skating at one of the outdoor rinks, or catch A Christmas Story at Virginia Rep.
12. Box up that holiday-themed kid stuff! A few days after Christmas, start collecting all the non-decoration holiday things from around the house. I’m talking Santa books, DVDs, T-shirts, PJs, board games, the North Pole play set, the Fisher-Price nativity, and yes, those candy cane tights your 4-year-old has been trying to wear to preschool every day since Halloween. Store this box of fun with your decorations. As the boxes come out next year, this one is first. That way, the kids will have fun playing, and you’ll get a head start on your decorating before you ask them to help. See number one!