Working Parents Holiday Survival Guide

The sprint from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is a beast for most folks, but if you have kids and you’re working outside of the home it’s a trifecta of over-scheduling, guilt and unmet expectations. You feel horrible that you have to miss the preschool Holiday Caroling Party at 11 AM because you have meeting downtown at 10:30. Your to-do list seems to grow with every item checked off and yet as you are rushing around, from your daughter’s Nutcracker Dress Rehearsal to your son’s Boy Scout Canned Good Collection Drive while frantically checking email from your boss you have to wonder: is it January yet?

Listen, the Holidays are busy. There are extra commitments and activities on top of your normal circus and that only adds fuel to the fire. Add on all the baggage from your own childhood holiday expectations and guilt that you aren’t going to sacrifice your little angels’ “perfect holiday” because you work and you have a recipe for disaster.

So I’m here to tell you two things: it will not be perfect, and that’s okay.

The upside to adulting is that you are in charge of your time, you can say no, and it will all be alright. On my sixteenth year as a working parent during the holidays, I have a few survival tips that may help quell your Christmas Chaos:

1. Reign It In. You don’t need to give every single person you know the perfect gift. Ain’t no shame in the same-gift game. Find the perfect small gift? Buy a dozen and share with everyone from your cube-neighbor to the newspaper delivery guy. And most of our kids have MORE than they will ever want or need. Our family sticks to the four gift rule: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Draw names with your extended family or agree to only exchange gifts for the children. We all have too much crap anyway.

2. Just Say No. I once insisted on attending three holiday parties in one night. That was dumb, and not a lot of fun for me or my husband. Two parties per night, max. And it’s okay to say no to client or vendor parties. Or to your friends that host direct sales parties (ask them to send you a link, they gladly will). You probably won’t make it to every year-end or holiday event for each child, and everyone will survive. Why is the piano recital at the same time as the end-of-season sports banquet? Are they conspiring against me? No, but ’tis the season for a calendar collision course.

3. Order Gifts to Your Office. You are more Amazon Prime than Pinterest and I love you for it. Ship gifts to your office so you don’t have to Heisman your kid when launching out of the minivan from daycare pickup, running to get the box left on the front step, only to spend the next fifteen minutes (during the witching hour, mind you) looking for a better hiding spot from your little Nancy Drew. Schedule a late work night in December, pour yourself a little cocktail and put that laptop Spotify app on Holiday music and wrap away. All the recycling goes in the office bin and you arrive home with wrapped packages to slip under the tree or gift after you light the menorah.

4. Only Do What Brings You Joy. I have a love-hate relationship with holiday cards: love to get them, hate to give them. Every year it became a family battle royale to get the right photo, wrestle with mail merge labels and bribe the boys into assembly-line the distribution. So I gave it up. One year I made an Animoto video, another year I sent Valentine’s Day cards. People, THANK YOU for sending me yours, but I just can’t even. Maybe I’ll send them when the boys are in college (please, sweet baby Jesus, may they all get into college) but please accept my apologies in advance that I just can’t get it together to get cards out the door while I’m wrapping up year-end at work.

5. Impromptu is Better. Look, you can’t orchestrate the perfect holiday. Rather than scheduling all the things you want to do during the holidays, leave space for the magic to happen. One of our favorite holiday traditions is for the boys and I to sneak out for an hour or two (can be done ANYTIME) to be elves practicing Random Acts of Kindness. They get to choose what we do, we’re together, we feel good. And that’s a heckuva lot better than forcing your family to go to a Messiah Singalong that only YOU want to attend (and seriously, go alone, it’s better that way).

And when you have the inevitable candy cane-induced meltdown, don’t freak out. That’s happening in every house and isn’t what you see in the picture-perfect InstaChristmas posts. Throw your kids in the car in their PJ’s, give them a plastic coffee mug of warm milk or hot chocolate, and take a little ride around the neighborhood and look at all the pretty lights. There really is magic in the season, you just have to have the time to notice it.