This is the first of two posts aimed at helping you plan a Christmas with your baby or toddler that you might actually enjoy as much as they do. It’s definitely possible to celebrate a happy Christmas with toddlers or babies but a little forethought goes a long way.
This is our seventh Christmas as parents and the first where we don’t have a baby or a toddler. In those years I’ve learnt a few tricks (some of which we’ll keep using with our 4 and 6 year old for now!) which have made this time of year one we can truly enjoy together as a family rather than a festival of crabby parents and over-tired and over-hyped kids. I’ve learnt some of this from bitter experience, some from friends and some from happy (or lazy) accident. Ready for some super-practical ideas?
1.KEEP IT SIMPLE!
This is the one cardinal rule really. Everything about Christmas is new and novel to a small child or baby and you don’t want to miss out on at least a few opportunities to just watch your tiny person enjoy the twinkling lights or try on a paper hat out of a cracker for the first time. Give yourself space to feel that joy with them. The fancy decorations or gourmet lunch can wait for another year. You won’t regret it. Plus, a hyper child is rarely a happy child, at least not for long.
2. Minimise travelling.
If you possibly, possibly can, stay home or close to home. So you’ve always alternated which parents you go to? Families grow and change and it is totally fine to take a deep breath and say “This year we’d like to be in our own home.” Our kids our thankfully very good little travellers and we’ve done a couple of (wonderful) Christmases with the in-laws but some years we’ve been too exhausted to contemplate being safe behind the wheel for several hours on an icy motorway (invoking fears of safety on the roads is always a sure-fire way to underline your argument). It’s a new era. People will cope. And there’s always Skype. Remember you are your child’s advocate, even if it’s hard to state your own needs.
3. Remember your child has no expectations.
You are so off the hook here so revel in it! Your child won’t remember last Christmas until they’re at least 3. This takes a lot of pressure off. When my daughter was a baby we actually mostly put her own toys into her stocking. She just thought it was a wonderful new game! They don’t know that there should be 8 kinds of vegetable at dinner time or that the tree should be a specific height. They’re not expecting anything (and they definitely haven’t been on Pinterest!) so you are free to keep it really, really simple.
4. Remember your child may be anxious.
See it from their point of view. Everyone’s excited. Everyone’s saying it’s Christmas but then it’s not actually Christmas (Day) yet and there’s new food and funny music and a weird man in a big red costume. Toddlers love familiarity and repetition and this is anything but. Add in relatives they don’t remember meeting before, a few missed naps and too much noise and your little darling could really be struggling.
5. Think beyond this Christmas.
Don’t be haunted by the ghost of Christmas future. Set up traditions that are easy to maintain and that minimise stress. Manage future expectations.
We have loads of fun traditions in our family like candlelit teas throughout December, going out to breakfast the day we go buy the tree, eating a bread and cheese “Shepherd’s Tea” under the tree on Christmas Eve as we read the Christmas story from a children’s bible or always putting marzipan mice on the cake. None of them entail a lot of work and that’s entirely intentional. It’s wonderful setting up new, precious and meaningful traditions that your kids will remember. Make them easy for you too!
One thing that has helped us get a little bit more sleep so far is this. We’ve always told our kids that Santa could come any time between bedtime and the morning so they’d better not risk surprising him before he’s left their stockings by getting out of bed early! So far they’ve always stayed in bed until their Gro clocks are yellow, just like any other morning! (I know it won’t last….).
In summary, little ones just want time with happy, relaxed parents and if that means Aunt Bessie helps with the roast potatoes, then so be it. (My mother-in-law couldn’t tell the difference and she is frankly Delia incarnate). They don’t know that you couldn’t get tickets to Santa on a Steam Train or that your mother always made home-made croissants on Christmas Morning. And, as they say, what they don’t know, won’t hurt them
So, any tips from you old hands? What has made Christmas rock for your family? And what will you never do again??? What do you think is the secret of a a happy Christmas with toddlers or babies ?
In part two, I’ll have some ideas for making the tree safe as well as stylish, planning Christmas Day so you don’t all end up in a melt down and figuring out how to ‘do’ presents without making everyone broke or miserable.