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Get Into the Groove

The holidays are here and, for many families, that means last-minute shopping, traveling with kids by car or plane, and spending a lot of time with extended family (for better or worse). With all of the out-of-routine responsibilities and errands hanging over our heads, the joy that the season is supposed to bring all too oft en gets buried under a big woolen, scratchy blanket of stress.

“What should be a time of rest and hibernation has become one of the most stressful times of year,” says Steve Reedy, a licensed professional family counselor with Dallas Whole Life Counseling. “It is so crammed with activity that we end up using what little amount of free time we have preparing for something, and by the time that something comes along we’re too tired to enjoy it.”

Part of the problem is that we have idealized images in our minds of what the holidays are supposed to be: smiling families in postcard perfect settings, elaborate holiday décor that invites the awe of neighbors, that best-ever batch of cookies and relaxing by a roaring fire. But trying to orchestrate a holiday season that lives up to our expectations leaves most moms feeling burnt out and falling short.

So how can you get the most out of the month without stumbling from one frantic day to the next? Here are some tips to help keep yourself and your family healthy and happy, even during the most stressful circumstances.

Into the Mall We Go
If you absolutely have to enter a busy mall with kids in tow, consciously try to change your perspective about the task ahead instead of focusing on negatives like lack of parking and crowds. “Remember, it is not about running into the mall, it is about the time you are spending with your kids, and the time they are spending with you,” Reedy says. If there is a special holiday exhibit happening, take a detour for 10 or 20 minutes to share it with your children. “When you leave, you will hopefully have a memory you can keep rather than a moment you want to forget.”

When Family Gets Too Close for Comfort
Inevitably, being surrounded by extended family comes with listening to unsolicited advice from a relative. It may be about how you should live your life, raise your kids, or any other “helpful suggestion” that ends up making you feel inadequate or just plain angry. But instead of allowing the needling to get under your skin—or worse, blowing it up into an argument—try to listen politely while sticking to your guns. “Try as much as you possibly can to be fascinated by their advice,” says Theresa Kellam, Ph.D, a licensed North Texas psychologist and author of The Parental Survival Guide: From Chaos to Harmony in Ten Weeks. “It doesn’t mean you have to take their advice. Just try to enjoy seeing the world through their eyes, rather than taking what they have to say as hurtful criticism.”

One Sugar Cookie Too Many
If grandma (or any other family member) insists on doling out desserts to your already sugar-overdosed kids, Reedy advises instituting a simple rule: “If they help bake it, then they can eat it.” And it should be from scratch, not from a box. This will not only help teach your children how to cook, but will also serve to create a positive holiday experience that they will remember.

Sloppy Sleeping Schedules
This one’s tough: Your child is in a new environment, and is excited by the hubbub of the holidays. The last words he wants to hear are “time for bed.” While staying up past bedtime is okay occasionally, you don’t want to set a regular precedent that will be hard to break come 2011. To help keep your kids’ sleep schedules intact, Reedy suggests trying “not to bring the child’s evening to an abrupt end.” No starting a movie they can’t finish, and have computer and game time end 30 minutes before bed.

Dreaded Party Prepwork
Try to view preparation activities not as a burden, but as a chance to connect with your family and friends. Baking together. Shopping together. Decorating together. “Don’t make it a race to the end,” Reedy advises. “The holidays should not be reduced to
getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ Everything that happens in between matters, and can often be a more pleasant memory than the holiday itself.”