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How These Families Survive the Holidays

24 essential tips from parents like you

Published on: December 06, 2017

dog kid holidays

You don’t have to travel any farther than your local shopping mall to find a line of sleep-deprived moms and dads frantically trying to check their lists (you can forget about doing it twice).

And while we may not be quite at the “bah, humbug!” stage quite yet, plenty of us are simply trying to survive the busiest time of year.

So how do you do it? We asked members of the ParentMap community for their best holiday survival advice.

From checklists to the power of “no,” these suggestions are the fuel you need to make the holidays happen without losing your sanity in the process.

Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

“Make sure you carve out times to enjoy the holidays, instead of trying to make every moment special. Everyone will have a better holiday season if you’re not run ragged by all of that ‘fun.’” — Jody Allard, ParentMap managing editor

“Several years ago, I stopped sending gifts to all my family members and cut back to one gift per child for my own children. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I wish I would have done it years earlier! I think my kids appreciate keeping things simple and sticking to a fairly regular schedule during the holidays — as much as possible, anyway.” — Christine H., Bothell

“My daughter and I have individual ‘wish lists’ [on our family whiteboard] so that we can get gifts that each of us wants and less miscellaneous gifts. The hard part about the wish list is that once it’s on the list, you can’t buy it for yourself or change the item. You can add to the list. Items should be items that you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself. The only way it comes off the list before the new year is if someone else buys it or if you really don’t want it anymore.” — Grace D., Seattle

"I stopped sending out holiday cards. Best decision ever." — Kristyn Petti Wagoner, ParentMap advertising and partnerships manager

“If it doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. If making cookies, sending cards, driving four hours to family dinner or going to every party brings you stress instead, then don’t do it.” — Elisa Taylor, ParentMap ad traffic manager

“Spend time, not money.” — Richard R., Mercer Island

“My husband and I both have large families, so it can get overwhelming. Instead, we typically do something special just for the grandparents.” — Becky H., Seattle

“Rushing about probably really won’t matter next week, next month or next year. But this moment does. Being in the moment with my child, particularly with the wonder of the holidays, keeps me sane.” — Ambre O., Seattle

“I love the ritual of Chanukkah and lighting the candles each night. We do one thing we are grateful for with each candle nightly. I also get eight small presents for the kids; they love that ritual more than the grateful component, and it makes us all happy.” — Ida Wicklund, ParentMap senior manager, advertising sales

“I save up some extra vacation time even if it’s just half a day to take off in early December. I use that time for shopping, baking, a Christmas activity with the kids — anything totally unplanned. It helps get me in the spirit and enjoy things.” — Kelly R., Renton

“During the crazy holiday season, I try to take time to play board games during a family game night! It really brings us together, and the kid loves it as well (even if he does complain about the no-screen time at first).” — Angela H., Lynnwood

“I wrap gifts as I purchase them.” — Randi P., Bellevue

“When our daughters were 9 and 11, my family adopted a four-present wish list: one gift they need, one gift they want, one gift they’ll wear and one gift they’ll read. It’s changed my craziness dramatically, and I’m still in disbelief at how much they like it even two years later.” — Rosemary R., Tacoma

“I have an automatic savings account that deposits a small amount every week into a holiday spending account. When it’s time to buy gifts for the nanny, family and friends, I have money saved up already so I don’t stress as much about a bigger-than-usual spending month.” — Jordan J., Seattle

“Decorating Christmas cookies with littles will not go perfectly. Go in with low expectations and lots of patience and you’ll create wonderful memories.” — Dani Carbary, ParentMap manager, advertising sales and partnerships

"I set up a calendar of our favorite holiday activities. I put each activity in an envelope, and the kids open one every day [in December]. The activities might be ‘buy Christmas tree,’ ‘visit reindeer at Swansons’ or ‘read books with hot chocolate by the tree.’ Planning out the schedule helps me feel organized and able to enjoy it and be more present.” — Lisa W., Seattle

“My son is autistic and often is extremely overwhelmed by the season. We use two techniques that help us: first, we pick one important event that we will attend; all others we say no to. Second, we’ve worked out a code for my son to ask to leave: He can text us the letter ‘X’ and we know that means it’s time to go.” — Blake B., Tacoma

“At the beginning of December, we sit down around the table and make a paper chain of all the Christmas activities we want to do together. It’s a lot of fun to brainstorm together and have all of those activities to look forward to!” — Elena P., West Richland

“I have a ritual for self-sanity: I go to my favorite coffee shop with a stack of Christmas cards to write.” — Anne W., Seattle

“Make the baked goods early and freeze them.” — Cynthia G., Lake Forest Park

“We always do a trip [during the holidays] and have really fun and happily filled stockings. Each kiddo has 10 whole dollars (!) to buy two gifts for their brother, but the main gift is getting to pick an experience while we’re on our trip.” — Tara Buchan, ParentMap events manager

“We keep a tote of scarves, hats and gloves in the car at all times. Having those extra things makes it easier to pop out and enjoy something spur of the moment.” — Monica L., Renton

“Last year we got our tree late — just a few days before Christmas — and that was nice. We didn’t have to water for an extended period, it was half off, and we weren’t sick of it by the time the once-yearly pickup date came in January.” — Amy M., Port Angeles

"Stop looking at Pinterest." — Eebie M., Seattle

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