Letting go in the holiday tug-of-war

It’s the most chaotic time of the year. With the start of November, parents start feeling the pull of the holidays. The stress of budgeting for presents, travel, and holiday events is enough to rattle anyone’s holiday spirit, and trying to manage invitations, obligations, and special events has many parents changing their tune from “Let it Snow!” to “Let it be over!”

For many, it all starts with a simple question: what should we do for the holidays? This quickly snowballs into a never-ending list of follow-up questions. Should we travel? Should we stay home? Should we host friends? Should we visit family? What can we afford? Competition for your and your family’s time — from in-laws, siblings, friends, and work — has many parents wishing they could skip the holiday hoopla altogether.

Yet, there are ways to navigate the murky seas of familial and social obligations that accompany the holidays. All you need are a few strategies for getting organized, staying honest, and knowing when to say “no thanks, but…” Read on to find out how to let go in your holiday tug-of-war.

Define non-negotiables

Every family has certain commitments that are non-negotiable. You simply need to make time for them in your schedule. Do yourself and your family a favor by determining what these are as early as possible.

Does your oldest child have final exams to study for? Or maybe your little one has a speaking role in the holiday pageant? Consider both scheduled events like parties, and ongoing ones like music lessons or sports.

Compile a list of not-to-be-missed events for all of your family members, and note dates, venues, and times so you aren’t frantically searching for them at the last minute.

Put it (all) in writing

Once you’ve established your family’s non-negotiables, put every single one of them in writing. But don’t stop at a list. Write the dates on the family calendar. (And if you don’t have one of these, please create one immediately!)

This does not mean simply logging things in your smartphone or personal planner. Important family events need to be visible to parents and kids. This helps avoid conflict because everyone can see when something is happening, and also gives everyone a sense of ownership in making holiday plans. So if you expect your partner to attend your holiday office party, don’t just assume it’s a go — put it in VISIBLE writing.

Check in

As tempting as it might be to reply “yes” to the first ugly-sweater party invitation that lands in your inbox, resist the urge. It’s unfair of you to commit to something without talking it over with the rest of the family. You may be thrilled at the prospect of having Thanksgiving dinner with your parents at a nice restaurant, but your kids may want to relax and stay home.

Check-in with your home team before you make any decisions. You’ll avoid making assumptions, and are less likely to encounter whining and grumbling down the road. By seeking out other’s opinions and ideas in the planning phase, you may find yourself on the receiving end of the same respectful consideration in the future.

Consider your kiddos

When making holiday plans, it’s often easy to assume that your kids, especially if they are young, will roll with whatever you decide to do. But stop and think for a minute: do you really want to fly (and risk delays and overbookings) across the country when your kids want to cozy up with you at home?

For many, the magic of the holidays dwindles as we get older. If you have little ones, consider taking it easy and establishing traditions at home over the holidays. If your kids are older, you need to talk with them about their school work, activities, and sports schedules — many of which do not take a hiatus over winter breaks.

Put forth a Plan ‘B’

Refusing an invitation, especially from a family member, can be tricky. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make things awkward.

Instead of simply saying “no thank you,” or “sorry, we can’t make it,” offer an alternative. So maybe you can’t attend Christmas dinner at your in-laws’. Offer to host them for a New Year’s Day brunch instead. Better yet, save yourself some stress and plan a get-together for later in the month. Why not take advantage of one of the long weekends in January or February for a low-key visit?

Take time for the team

Amidst the chaos of holiday shopping, decorating, and socializing, keep in mind that one of the goals of this time of year is to celebrate with loved ones, especially your immediate family. That’s difficult to do if you’re always worrying about catching a flight to somewhere, or spending days trapped in the kitchen preparing a meal.

Make it a point to carve out some family time with your kids, whether they’re toddlers or teenagers. You won’t have them home with you forever, and now is the time to make some memories that they can cherish. Schedule a game night, have a cookie-baking party, or get outdoors and build a snow family. Whatever you decide, make that time sacred and family-only. You’ll all be thankful you took some time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Remember, the holidays aren’t about accepting every invitation that comes your way. Take some time, before the frenzy begins, to think about what you and your family should hold on to, and ways you can let go.

Enjoy the season.

Beth Fornauf is a freelance writer. She plans to celebrate the holidays by hosting family, relaxing with her husband and two children, and enjoying some fun in the snow.