1. Parenting

What Dads Can Do to Have a Peaceful Holiday Season

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Christmas Under the Tree
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Several years ago, our family had one of the most hectic and demanding holiday seasons ever. Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Julie's mom had a major medical issue with her heart. Within hours, Julie and her brother headed out for her mom's home about 12 hours away. As Mom began to recover, Julie was home for about 10 days and then out to care for her mom and dad until about 5 days before Christmas.

Christmas has always been Julie's favorite holiday, and her enthusiasm has spread to all of our kids. We decorate intensely inside the house, and I have my own Christmas extravaganza outside (the electric utility sends us a thank you card each holiday season). But that particular year, things had to give a little as I manned the family solo for most of the season. From school programs to church activities to holiday parties at work and in the neighborhood, we were incredibly busy. And when Julie finally got home a few days before Christmas, we had to fit in her holiday traditions with the family as well.

But the experience taught us that in order to have a memorable and positive holiday season, we need to make time to have some peaceful moments. If your family holidays feel just as hectic as ours, here are some suggestions for finding a little holiday peace.

Hold firm on family nights. In our home, we set aside Monday evenings year round as family night. Nothing interrupts unless it is an emergency. During the holidays, things seem to be available every night. So make sure you are saying no to things that happen on your family night. Just plan on being home and together for a less stressful night. That little bit of balance will really help bring some peaceful moments.

Get a little religion. While not all fathers are religious, the holidays can be a time of connecting with faith. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan or no winter holiday at all, take some time for reflection with your family. Focus on timeless values and things that are meaningful to you.

Limit time away from family. With my job and our neighborhood connections, there seems to be an endless supply of opportunities for holiday parties for just adults. We have decided in our family to do only two holiday activities away from the kids—one from work that I choose and one from somewhere else that Julie chooses. Other than those two, we only have activities away from home that involve the family.

Establish and honor family traditions. Some of the things that your children take with them are your family traditions. The holidays are a time that lends itself to traditions. Finding some that work for your family and then sticking with them can help bring a little more grounding to your holiday experience. For example, one community where we lived had a Christmas Village in a large downtown park which included dozens of miniature cottages with little moving characters. Every year we would bundle the kids into winter clothes and head up for Christmas Village, walk around the village, listen to Christmas music and get hot cocoa with whipped cream. Making time for these kinds of traditions will bring some predictability and consistency to your holiday celebration.

Don't sacrifice sleep. Lack of sleep on the part of a dad or the kids will create undue stress during the holidays. No matter how much fun you are having, if you don't get enough sleep, the family members will be testy and easily provoked. Leave the family party on time rather than staying up late for a movie or game. Keep your regular curfew with your teens and tweens so that they are home at a reasonable hour and can get a good night's sleep.

Shop early and online. One of the most important ways to cut the stress of the holidays for your family is to avoid store during the busy holiday season. For many years, my wife has finished our holiday shopping by October 1. On the other hand, I am always shopping for her the week before Christmas and am fighting lines, shoppers who have lost the holiday spirit and empty shelves where the things I want used to be. Online shopping is also a good approach, helping us avoid the store all together. Making celebration the focus of the season rather than shopping will really help with finding holiday peace.

With a little careful planning and the discipline to say no to things that are not as important as others, a dad can make a big difference in the level of peace and harmony at home during the holidays.

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