The holidays are an exhausting time to be a mother. This will be my seventh Christmas as a mom, and inevitably, it’ll be the seventh year in a row that I find myself saying throughout December, “There’s gotta be a way to make this easier.”

It Has To Be Easier??

I’ll say it while stress-eating an entire plate of frosted sugar cookies instead of tackling the sprinkled and floury mess my kids and I made in the kitchen.

When I’m up at 2 a.m., wrestling with my failed homemade pie crust and cursing Ina Garten for calling her recipe “foolproof,” I’ll say it.

I”ll say it one day during that hazy week between Christmas and New Years’, when no matter how many times I’ve run the vacuum, fake pine needles and red glitter are still stuck in the carpet.

“You’ll get better at this,” I tell myself, as if preparing for and dismantling the holidays were a marathon, or a six week-long obstacle course, and I just need to get in better shape, or to train harder.

In search of a December where “All is calm, all is bright,” I reached out to my mom friends. I asked what they do to slow down, simplify and savor the season. Here’s what I learned:

Plan Ahead, Get Organized

1. “Before the holidays hit, we go through all the toys/books/stuffed animals/clothes and donate things that the kids have outgrown or just don’t play with.”

2. “I wrap presents the day I get them. All of the kids’ pre-wrapped gifts go into a plastic tub in the garage labeled ‘Summer Clothes.’”

3. “In January when I’m packing away the decorations, I keep a list on my Notes app of all the supplies (tissue paper, Santa hats, etc.) that I need to restock or want to buy for next year.”

Downsize Gift-Giving

1. “In my extended family, we only buy gifts for the kids.” This was a gifting strategy I heard over and over. Some moms streamline this even more, by having all the cousins in a family draw names to give gifts to each other. One friend said the adults in her family take the money they’d spend on each other, and plan an event together.

2. “When my kids were younger, we spent $$$ on Christmas gifts. I regret buying so many toys. They played with them for a week, then forgot about them. Their room got out of hand with buckets and buckets of unused toys we eventually donated to Goodwill.”

3. “We give each kid $10 to buy each other a gift. It’s really fun watching them pick it out and then open them from each other.”

4. “Santa puts a gift on the end of their bed on Christmas morning.” (Notice she said a gift. Just one!) “They can open this Santa gift and their stockings as soon as they wake up in the morning. We then have a breakfast together before opening any other gifts.”

Take Care of Santa (That’s YOU)

As moms, we are the ones making the magic, but we are mortals. We can’t pull all-nighters and subsist on cookies and milk (I’ve tried). We need sleep, and vegetables, boundaries, maybe a manicure, or a stiff drink to sip while making dinner. You know what you need. Honor those needs. Treat yourself.

1. “I buy pre-made salads and healthy soups to have on hand to combat all the excess sugar.”

2. “Maintaining my consistent exercise routine and healthy eating help keep my stress levels in check.”

3. “I turn on the TV and dive into the unreal and amazing world of Hallmark Christmas movies.”

4. “I watch ‘mom movies’ while I wrap presents. My recent favorite has been ‘A Bad Moms Christmas’. It helps me put the season in perspective.”

5. “Last year I started listening to more instrumental holiday music. It helped create a calm and soothing mood in the house, and still felt festive.”

More Bethlehem, Less North Pole

1. “I try to keep focused on celebrating Jesus’ birth for Christmas, which is my main goal of the holiday, but as a bonus that helps to take the pressure off of trying to make everyone so happy all month.”

Say No 

A common thread I heard among moms who seem to have a handle on the holidays? The ease and frequency with which they deploy the word “no.” No to their inner perfectionist, no to hours in the kitchen, no to a jam-packed calendar.

1. “The biggest thing I do to simplify the holidays is to refuse to travel! We have family across the country, and after many stressful Christmases of hauling my kids to our relatives, we just decided that it wasn’t worth it to have to fly at the airports’ busiest times.”

2.“Your best is good enough. Taking the pressure off will actually make the outcome better.”

3.“I find that being realistic and not expecting to have the perfect holiday helps me to enjoy it more.”

4.“I’ve learned over the years that Pinterest can break a hardworking, rock star of a mom, because it gives this grandiose idea of what us moms think we have to be like. When I let go of having to be that hip, cool, Pinterest Mom, I enjoyed the moments that did end up working out for our family.”

5.“We order food as opposed to cooking food. It’s a more recent development, but it worked last year. We got to sit around and talk and hang out for the holidays instead of one person in the kitchen the whole day.”

6. “I feel very comfortable saying no to any plans, if I know I’ll feel overwhelmed. I know how I am and have decided the traditions I’m going to avoid.”

Be Present With Your Kids

Other tips I heard when it came to treasured family traditions were refreshingly basic. “Dedicate a day to PJs only. Stay in. Watch Christmas movies. Decorate your tree. Bake if you feel like it. Order dinner to go or for delivery.” Also, “Play games as a family (charades, Guess Who, Go Fish, Candy Land, etc.),” and “Dance parties around the tree.”

When you keep it easy, you give yourself the gift of an uncluttered headspace, and you’re able to give your kids the gift of your full attention.

“Kids enjoy the most simple holiday traditions. They find joy and comfort in ANY tradition that we begin for them at a young age.” This advice came from my neighbor, whose three sons are mostly grown. Her words are a reminder to aim for small and doable, over elaborate and fussy.”

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Ashlee grew up in Newbury Park, and returned to the area after studying journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and teaching English in Santiago, Chile for two years. She spent three years as a working mom, before leaving the corporate world to become a full-time, at-home parent. Her daughters are 5 and 6 years old, and she relishes getting to experience her old childhood stomping grounds through their eyes. An Enneagram 4, Ashlee enjoys reading, running, music, collecting vintage fashion magazines, and sharing a fun cocktail with her husband after work while their kids sit/jump beside them on the couch and watch "Pinkalicious." She is a whole-hearted believer that “it takes a village” not only to raise a child, but also to raise a mother. She is grateful for a supportive family, friends, and community, and is passionate about the power of writing to connect us and let us know we’re not alone.

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