One of the great pleasures of parenthood is sharing our holiday traditions with the next generation… but working parents today need to start with a dose of reality.  Perhaps our own memories of those traditions came out of a very different family structure, or from our elementary school years when we children were not so demanding of our parents’ time.  A parent who is home while children are at school can clean, shop, decorate, volunteer, and bake during those hours, leaving many hours for both relaxed family togetherness and activities.  It is simply not reasonable to think that a parent who works outside the home can re-create every holiday tradition managed by a parent at home; in fact, the effort guarantees that the working parent will be too exhausted to take much pleasure in those traditions.  How will you establish the happy memories that your children will be eager to share with your grandchildren?

Though it is hard to be reflective as a busy working parent, this is the moment to take a breath and consciously consider how to use limited, precious family time during this holiday season. Start by reflecting, individually and as a family, on what really matters.  Is there a religious or spiritual center to the season for us?  Do we love spending time with extended family and friends, or do we feel exhausted by too much time out and about with over-tired, over-stimulated children?  Is baking with the children a treat everyone looks forward to, or just a “must-do” to check off the list?  The most important part of this process is being honest with ourselves about what matters to us, and having the courage to discard or minimize those things which are not.

Advertising and other media can easily convince us that proper holidays involve lots of shopping for gifts and food, and attending shows and events.  Most of the year we try to minimize waste, but somehow amid the frenzy of the holidays we end up buying unneeded gadgets and battery-operated gizmos destined soon for the landfill. Our children spend a lot of time out of the house and don’t need closets stuffed with toys. One really interesting toy is usually enough of a gift for a preschooler, and certainly enough for a toddler (especially if it comes in a good box, one of the best toys of all time!). It is our job to figure out what is important, what makes the holidays truly meaningful and enjoyable, and have the audacity to dispense with the rest of it.

So take the time now to identify your goals, filter them through your lens of reality, and shape the season into one you’ll treasure this year and eagerly anticipate next year.