The most wonderful time of the year, or the busiest, most stressful? Or a little of both?

The fall and winter holidays can be full of family traditions, or family fights. Or family fights about traditions.

When my oldest was a baby, I was so excited for him to experience the magic of the holiday season. Christmas is the only time I see my extended family, and we usually travel to spend time back home with our parents.

I’ve learned a lot about my holiday expectations versus reality in the last 7 years, so I wanted to write down what has helped me in case it helps (or reminds) you. 

Holiday Survival Strategies for Parents

How To Plan Holiday Events With Kids

Do you ever fall into the trap of wanting to do ALL THE THINGS? This year may have fewer events available, but it’s easy to start making a list of ideas and want to schedule everything. A toy parade here, a gift exchange there, a tree lighting and craft project and gift wrapping and holiday movies and …. Oops. 

It can help to make a list of possible activities, but remember that disappointment is the distance between expectations and reality. 

My expectations the first year were high!

Reality was…. Not high. It felt so frustrating to try to do Fun Family Things and feel thwarted by nap time/a cranky kid/etc. 

After that trip I made a new rule: 


We can DO more than one thing, but we can only PLAN one thing. Everything else is a bonus. But we are creatures of habit, and adding too many new things is a recipe for disaster at our house. Even now that my oldest is almost 8, holidays mean school holidays and a change in routine before adding in events. 

Add in sweet holiday foods, busy parties (most years), and later nights, and you’re buying a ticket on the Meltdown Express. And it might be YOU on the train.

So we focus on setting ourselves up for success for that single activity or event. This has meant asking our families to change some traditions, or missing out on some activities because they don’t work for our family right now.

This brings us to our next topic.

How to say no to family expectations & traditions


Ahh, family. We love them and hate to disappoint them, which is a double-edged sword. Becoming parents can make it trickier to navigate everyone’s needs (see previous topic) successfully. Setting ourselves and our kids up for success often means setting some firm boundaries with our extended family.

Remember that NO is a complete sentence. You do not have to drag your child all over town during naptime if you don’t want to. Maybe it’s worth it to see your grandma--but maybe it’s not and that’s OK, too. 

Other conflicts I've heard frequently: late mealtimes not working for young kids, multiple activities per day, long drives, comments about food choices or pressure to eat new foods, or feeding the kids or baby foods you don't want them to have.

Focus less on the activities and more on enjoying the moment


It’s easy to get excited at all the possibilities of fun activities! Then I have to remind myself that sadly, my kids don’t actually enjoy a lot of that stuff. I wish they did. I want them to.

But they don’t. 

Do I want them to experience something because *I* enjoy it, because *they* would enjoy it, or because I just think that’s what we’re supposed to do?


  • Going to see the Nutcracker: I would love this. I’ve actually watched lots of it on YouTube with my kids. They would NOT like sitting still in a theater to watch it. Not worth it.
  • Ice skating: I am terrible at skating and hate being cold. My kids think it's a super fun rare treat. My sister takes my kids and her daughter and I stay home in warm socks. Win-win!
  • Decorating Christmas cookies: Two of my kids can’t have gluten or dairy, one can’t have eggs, and the thought of giving my kids colored icing (our dining area is carpeted) gives me heart palpitations. Not worth it.
  • Drinking hot chocolate while decorating the tree: Separately? Yes. Together? The kids were jumping off the furniture and spilling ornament hooks all over the carpet. I'm still taking deep breaths thinking about it a week later.

I often walk through this with clients for many topics, because we usually start with what we want to DO, then we find obstacles that prevent it, or we’re doing things and have mismatched expectations. 

Instead, ask how you want (you or your kids) to FEEL. Do you want them to be happy? Do you want them to be enchanted? Surprised? Excited? Loved? 

There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s just identifying your destination so you can find the best path. Once you know what feeling you want to create, think of what activities would do that. Not everything has to be The Best Holiday Activity of All Time--or can be. 

Also know your kids. One friend has two kids - one introverted homebody, and another extroverted adventurer. She finally realized that the best way to create one tradition was for her to take the extrovert out to see holiday lights while the introvert happily stayed home for special time with Dad. Both kids were happier that way, and each get their own holiday event. 

These are all simple, but not easy.

How do you set yourself up for holiday success?

If you struggle, what’s the hardest part? If you need some support, set up a free call with me to see if a Holiday Survival Session would be a good fit for you.

You don’t have to do this alone.