Greetings: Hanukkah and the holiday season is upon us. School vacation (oceans of unstructured time!) looms. Report cards are out, and conferences have commenced. You need to buy gifts for your child’s teacher, piano instructor, gymnastics teacher, who knows. Perhaps your long-lost Aunt Gertrude is planning to descend on your home for an extended holiday stay. Perhaps you’re on the verge of losing your mind.
I asked several veteran parents for tips about how they stay (relatively) calm during this crazy time of year. Here are 10. Feel free to add your own.
Just say no
This from a mother of three: Do not RSVP “yes” to every far-flung Facebook invitation and holiday party. Choose only those you really want to attend, and those you think you’ll actually show up to. How many times have we replied “yes” to a party out of sheer guilt or misguided hope, then had to scramble for an excuse at the last minute? Happens to the best of us. Set expectations in advance.
Choose one charity and stick to it
You want to help others during the holidays. This is admirable, to be sure. But you don’t need to save the world. Choose a cause that’s close to you, and devote yourself to that. You don’t need to round up canned goods, collect used coats, fund a toy drive and serve meals at a soup kitchen. Pick one special something close to your heart and ditch the guilt. (Here’s one great cause!)
Money is fine
Ain’t no shame in donating money to a cause if you just can’t be there in person.
Obey the one big thing per weekend rule
One dad of two very young kids recommends picking one “anchor” event per weekend, whether it’s going to a holiday party or visiting friends. “Weekends are for down time, especially right now; otherwise the kids get overstimulated and my wife and I get completely frazzled,” he says. Don’t jam-pack your free time in a desperate celebratory effort to be everywhere at all times, unless you have tons of energy and unlimited access to espresso. You are not Ryan Seacrest.
Store-bought is really OK
Give yourself permission to not cook. Maybe you love it, and if so, awesome. But nobody will notice if those cookies you bring for your kids’ art teacher aren’t baked from scratch. Wrap ’em nicely and serve with a smile.
One friend of mine buys enormous tote bags at The Container Store and just throws her kids’ seasonal junk into them. This time of year leads to a spike in clutter of all kinds, from extra classroom reminders to homemade “gifts” made at school to sticky craft projects gone awry. Not sure what to do with them? Just designate a bag, a box or whatever works for you and shove ’em in. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says my friend, who notes that a cleaner house gives her a sense of control during the crazy season. You can always weed through what you really want later, but now is not the time to become Marie Kondo‘s frantic disciple.
Wash your sheets
Random? Not really. Several people I polled say that slipping into clean sheets after a long day of partying or hosting makes it all worthwhile. One enterprising mom even lays out her pajamas and slippers, and a book, before leaving home for the day. “It gives me something calming to look forward to,” she says. We all need a sanctuary. Indulge yourself.
Use one credit card for everything
If you find yourself shopping a lot in the next few weeks, designate one particular card for all of it. “This makes budgeting and tracking so much easier,” says one consummate hostess. Plus: Rewards points.
Practice mindful socializing
OK, sounds New Age-y, but the principle matters: Before doing anything, whether it’s going to a party or donating to a cause or visiting family, quickly ask yourself how it will enrich you and your family. Maybe it won’t and you just can’t get out of it, but “the point is to be mindful of how you spend your valuable time,” says one friend. Not every holiday activity is going to be a personal and spiritual epiphany, but it should at least foster some sense of connection and fun.
Check in on people
This time of year is hard for a lot of people, and it has nothing to do with over-scheduling or holiday guilt. People are marginalized in all sorts of unseen ways: They’re lonely, have family stress, seasonal depression, ongoing depression, financial problems, all sorts of things that feel magnified during a time when everyone is supposed to be “on” and “happy.” Think about someone you haven’t heard from in awhile. Reach out. Maybe it’s just a quick text. Maybe it’s an email. Maybe it’s checking up on the woman who lives by herself down the street who might need help shoveling her sidewalk. Peek outside your frenzied bubble and pick someone to check on. A little perspective goes a long way.