Remember that excitement you used to feel when you were a kid every year when December rolled around? The lights, the decorations, the cookies, the music, the holiday specials on TV, and maybe most exciting of all — a break from school!

If you have young children, you remember that excitement well. You live it, vividly, through them, each and every day.

As a parent, I have come to realize that my kids, who are generally well behaved, turn into whirling dervishes every year around Thanksgiving, and that hyperactivity lasts right up until Christmas day. While their excitement is sometimes catching, and fun to be around, at other times I have to admit, it drives me crazy. And I am fully aware of the reasons why. As an adult, this time of year isn’t always as exciting for us as it is for the kids. It means added stress from trying to get all of the holiday baking and shopping done while attending parties and family gatherings, all on top of the regular routine of work, homework, laundry, cleaning house and making dinner.

All of that stress can make me very cranky, and I find myself yelling at the kids to be quiet or telling them to get out of the room while I’m baking rather than letting them help like I should.

Over the years I have come to realize that it’s a given that my kids will be excited, chaotic and hyper from Thanksgiving until Christmas. (Sometimes it’s even Halloween to Christmas.) And I don’t want to let that drive me crazy. Instead, I want that excitement to flow over to me, and bring back some of the magic of the season. Here are two things I try to do that have helped give me time to be excited with my kids, rather than fighting against them.

Cut Back on the “Have Tos.” One thing we feel, as parents, is the need to make Christmas a magical time for our kids. But I have learned, mostly from my early stepmom years, that a magical Christmas doesn’t mean making five batches of cookies, watching every single Christmas special together and going to every community event. What’s really important is doing things together and having fun doing it, but not overdoing it. When Craig was little there were a few Christmases when I tried to make sure that on the one weekend he was with us between Thanksgiving and Christmas we decorated the tree, made buckeyes, made and iced sugar cookies, and watched a couple of Christmas shows. But we just ended up feeling stressed out and tired. Finally I asked him to choose two of the traditions that were most important to him, and that’s what we did, letting the rest slide. That was a great lesson I’ve continued with my younger children, even though we do have more Christmas weekends together. We focus on the few traditions that are important to us: making a couple of batches of cookies, making buckeyes with their dad, decorating the tree, going to the Elkin Christmas parade and watching Elf. And then whatever else happens, happens.

santa

One of the things we make time for is Light Up Night. It’s where the kids get to see Santa, and even though Caroline thought she was too old to sit on Santa’s lap this year, Carter was desperate to tell Santa what he wanted but too scared to go on his own.

Embrace the Imperfections. I used to pride myself on my sugar cookies. I made batches each year to give away to neighbors and co-workers, all perfectly shaped and decorated. For a few years while my kids were young, I felt like I should include them on the baking but got frustrated when things didn’t turn out “perfect.” Then I realized, the point of baking cookies at Christmas, or making gifts, or decorating the house, whatever it is that you used to excel at on your own, isn’t really the end result. The point is it’s an activity that allows us to spend time together as a family. And those Christmas cookies with an inch-high layer of sprinkles taste just as good as the ones I used to make. Well, maybe they taste a little funny with all those sprinkles, but at least the kids will remember the fun of making them and not getting yelled at for using up all the sprinkles.

tree

Before I got married, my tree had white lights and was decorated solely with angels and music notes. These days it has colored lights and lots of big, hand-made ornaments, and I absolutely love it!

I do have to admit, I still might feel a little stressed and get frustrated with the kids once in a while. But these two things have definitely helped me not only survive the Christmas season, but enjoy it, something I want to make sure I do now more than ever. With Caroline 11 and Carter 8 this year, I know our Christmases with the kids are numbered, at least the way they stand now, and I want to soak up every minute of it.