If we’ve learned anything from the last three years of pandemic parenting, it’s the difference between what actually matters—like family, work-life balance, and coffee—and what doesn’t, like pants that aren’t leggings.
And as we approach the holiday season with that perspective in mind, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate some of the traditions we’ve taken on that cause a lot of stress. Because while I—a fellow mom generally feeling crushed by the mental load—can appreciate the time and effort it takes to order the perfect matching family pajamas in October, chances are no one else does.
Don’t get me wrong. If you wholeheartedly enjoy all of the following traditions, then by all means please continue them. I will treasure your family Christmas card in all its “matching ugly Christmas sweater” perfection. But if you find yourself dreading the season (which seems to start earlier every year, am I right?), and feeling overwhelmed or resentful about all the work, then you officially have my permission to cut the following from your to-do list:
1. Decorating in November
I’m sorry, but when did the season’s start date get fast-tracked to November 12 (or earlier, if you keep it on the DL)? When I was a kid in the glory days of ‘80s parenting, sometimes we didn’t decorate the tree until Christmas Eve. And I don’t recall suffering for it.
But these days, it can feel like if your house doesn’t look like National Lampoon as soon as you get the Halloween inflatables stored away, you have Officially Failed As A 2020s Parent Whose Sole Job Is To Provide Constant Joy.
If you’re dreading decking the halls before the leaves have even finished falling, then wait. It’s not a competition, even if social media may suggest otherwise.
2. Matching family pyjamas
Again, I really don’t remember this being a thing when I was a kid (in fact, I think if someone had tried to force my former step-dad into a striped onesie on Christmas Eve, he would have Ho-Ho-Hoofed-it straight to the bar).
Yet, here I am, racing other parents online to nab that elusive 3T, 6, Medium, XL combo in the nostalgic argyle print — in October. And for what? Instagram? To force my family to pose for 127 staged photos on Christmas Eve, in which one kid is yelling “poop!” or elbowing the other or crying in every single shot, while I grit my teeth and smile with dead eyes and my husband’s soul leaves his body?
I have a drawer full of ill-fitting Christmas pajamas that I have worn exactly once, and I bet you do, too. Why add to it?
3. Family Christmas cards
Yes, it is lovely to hear from family and friends both near and far over the holiday season. And sending out Christmas cards is a wonderful, time-told tradition.
But you know what isn’t? Booking “Christmas mini” photo sessions months in advance, spending an arm and a leg on festive outfits, then creating and ordering hundreds of personalized Christmas cards (that cost hundreds of dollars) plastered with photos of your beaming family as you threaten your partner with divorce for not knowing their uncle’s mailing address.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Who made family photo cards mandatory? What happened to buying a 14-pack from the drug store, scrawling “Happy Holidays, Aunt Erin!” on the inside and being done with it?
I love every photo card I receive from friends and family. But if you decide not to bother this year, I will not judge you. I will applaud you.
4. Keepsake gifts
Speaking of divorce, have you ever tried to make 20 toddler footprint ornaments during the height of holiday stress? Cried while creating “Baby’s First Year!” photo books for the entire extended family? Don’t even get me started on salt dough.
Take a deep breath, and listen to me: You don’t have to make keepsake gifts for others just because you have kids now. Not unless you want to. And they don’t have to be complex to be meaningful. I, for instance, still hang my own pre-made “Baby’s First Christmas 1982” ornament every year. I believe my name was added with alphabet stickers.
Put down the glue gun. Whatever voice inside is telling you that a good parent makes homemade snow globes for the grandparents—shush it. Print them a 4×6 and stick it in a drug store card.
5. Elaborate Elf on the Shelf schemes
*Swears profusely for 20 minutes*
OK, now that that’s out of my system, let’s discuss Elf on the Shelf. Perhaps you are the kind of person who thrives creating elaborate elf schemes for 24 days out of your life each year. Or maybe, like me, you thrive for three days (hot chocolate snow angels! Candy cane trail! Um… more hot chocolate snow angels!) and then curse this hell of your own making for the rest of the month.
Did you know that some people simply move the elf from place to place, as our forefathers intended? And some don’t have an elf… at all? You may be too late for that one, but if you already have an elf in your life (or plan to), take my word on this: DO NOT SET THE BAR HIGH. Say no to daily elfin dioramas and just move the dude around. If you feel like you must do more, stock up on some cheap dollar-store goodies and let the elf surprise your kids with some Santa stickers and crappy stuffies.
Best $24 you’ll ever spend.
6. A traditional dinner
This one is really a break from tradition, but let me ask you something: Who exactly is forcing us to cook a full turkey dinner from scratch each year? Who says we must? No one, that’s who.
We all love stuffing and pie, but if you would rather spend Christmas Day relaxing with your family, tobogganing, or sipping (spiked) hot chocolate while watching A Christmas Story, then please, please, give yourself permission to do exactly that. Chances are your kids will only eat the rolls, anyway.
Find a way to cut corners (grocery store pies are nothing to shake a fork at), outsource (some higher-end grocery stores can do a mean turkey dinner), or do away with the traditional, time-consuming dinner altogether. Christmas lasagna sounds pretty great to me if it means less stress and more memory-making.
And isn’t that the point of the holidays, anyway? Well, that and festive leggings.