Are Holiday Traditions Too Much Stress?

Spritz cookies, candle making, sugar cookies, TV Christmas specials, Christmas Eve candlelight service, counting down the days with candy canes, advent wreaths, reading Luke chapter 2, Twas the Night Before Christmas, breaking the peppermint pig, paper crowns, pickled herring, and the list could go on.

All Christmas “traditions” we had growing up in my family. Some we did at home, others we did with the grandparents. Some were built into the weeks before Christmas in grand anticipation, others were a part of our family Christmas Eve celebration. Some were to remember Jesus’ birth and why we celebrate Christmas, others were for family heritage and family fun. As a kid, they all enhanced my Christmas experience. But as an adult, I know we can’t fit everything in every year and it can be difficult to decide what to do and what to skip to save our sanity. Holiday traditions can be stressful and in the age of pinterest and social media, the pressure to do and post all the cute stuff with our kids can be overwhelming and sometimes depressing. (For Halloween, did you carve pumpkins, hand make your children’s costumes, hand out regular-sized candy bars, AND serve hot cider to your neighbors? Did it seem like all the other moms on Facebook did?) Then there are all the memes that encourage you to abandon anything and everything that causes even the slightest amount of stress for your holiday season. But is that really the best option? Should we scrap everything? How do we decide? 

My peppermint mocha cookies I developed last year.

I feel like every year I set out to do less and still end up doing more than I planned. I’m still working on fine-tuning my filter to decide what stays and what goes each year, but I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had on the subject lately that are helping me on my journey and might help you, too!

The first question I’ve asked myself is: What does the Bible say about traditions? The Bible actually addresses traditions in a couple ways that I think are absolutely important to consider as moms deciding what we want to do with our children each year. First of all, we are encouraged to practice traditions that cause us to remember what God has done. God commands the Israelites to remember how He saved them by celebrating Passover, repeating the stories to their children, and in Joshua 4 God had them make an alter of stones to remember how He helped them cross the Jordan river and to tell the story to their children for generations. Jesus also tells the disciples to continue practicing the Lord’s supper after He’s gone in remembrance of Him. So traditions that point to Jesus–finding ways to remember Him and retell His story to our children–whether through story books, crafts, devotions, whatever, are not only good things to do, but we absolutely need to be doing them with our kids. I’m not saying they need to be the craftiest things on pinterest, but we should be doing something to tell our children the story of Jesus in a meaningful way.

But, Jesus also warns against doing outward deeds that are meaningless to our hearts. (Matt 23:27-28) He says, “Woe to you!” So absolutely DO NOT DO the super crafty thing if it’s going to make you bitter. Find a different way to pass on the Christmas story to your children and use a medium that comes more naturally to you. The last thing we want to do is look showy on the outside but have bitter and stressed out hearts.

So what about the other stuff? What about the stuff that is just family fun? Do we scrap it if it stresses us out? Yes and no. I’ve never thought that anything worth while is going to be completely stress-free. My key now is to figure out the exact source of the anxiety. Here’s an example. Every year I get annoyed when a child spills the flour everywhere and sometimes I might even yell if the cookie making process is getting out of control. But I still look forward to making cookies with my kids each year, and so do they. They don’t remember me yelling that one time–they count down the days until we make cookies together. I’ve come to accept that life with four littles is going to be a little stressful for me because it’s going to be messy and I don’t like mess. But, this doesn’t mean scrapping the cookie making altogether. What it does mean is maybe I don’t pass out cookies to friends every year anymore. Randy and I used to give cookies out at Christmas but the more the kids want to be involved, the more chances there are for messy cookies, thumbprints where they don’t belong, and unnecessary anxiety. So I won’t give cookies out anymore because that’s too stressful. When I don’t have kids licking their fingers every two seconds, this tradition might restart. So if you used to get my Christmas cookies and don’t anymore, don’t be offended, be thankful. 😉

Do I have to do the same thing every year? No! For this question, I say, do what makes you happy. My kids are growing, maturing, and changing. They are capable of more each year, but we still have littles. So now my two older kids might be able to handle more, but I still have to weigh the fact that I have an almost-three-year-old and a one-year-old around who want to “participate” but can’t fully. Last year I might have been able to do more because I had a napping toddler and a sleeping infant. Now with two toddlers, I have to weigh my options carefully and if I decide it’s not worth going the extra mile in something, I know there’s alway next year, or the year after. I’m never going to be able to fit everything in one year and that’s also what makes it fun!

So where can I get ideas for the meaningful stuff? Many churches offer family devotions to take home around advent and lent. They might even have family events that reinforce the meaning to these seasons. This is great because you don’t have to look far for inspiration if you follow your church’s calendar of events! Another source I love for advent and lent is Her advent devotional for kids is called The Truth in the Tinsel and her lent packet is A Sense of the Resurrection. If these are too time-consuming for you, there are so many excellent books you can read aloud to your children for each season–check out your local Christian bookstore. (We like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Christmas and “Benjamin’s Box” at Easter.)

If holiday traditions annually stress you out, this year I encourage you to remember the freedom you have in Christ to not do the same thing every year, and to not try to be the perfect pinterest mom. But don’t neglect the responsibility you have to pass down the story of Christ to your children! May your heart be happy and light and your fingers not be perpetually sticky. Happy holiday traditions!

Yes, we’ll be making these silly turkeys again this year, after all the other Thanksgiving preparations are finished. And it will be pure fun!

Starting Up the Homeschool Year

Starting up the school year as a homeschool mom can be exciting and stressful, just like for any other teacher. This year for me, it’s definitely been an even mix of both! Generally, I find the stress to be in the choosing of curricula and setting up the “plan” for the day-to-day scheduling. But once that’s settled, excitement sets in and I can’t wait to start! But sometimes, plans don’t go according to, ahem, “plan.” Here are some things I have to keep in mind when starting the school year, and they might be helpful to you, too!

  • Your schooling doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s! (Nor should it!) It’s so easy to play the compare game on social media these days and sometimes we get discouraged if our school room (or kitchen table) doesn’t look as nice as those in other people’s pictures, or our kids don’t seem as excited to start as someone else’s. But not only is it unhealthy to constantly compare ourselves to other people, it’s sinful. If you are heeding God’s call on your family to homeschool, your only focus needs to be on how HE wants YOU to raise and educate YOUR kids. I have to remind myself of this almost daily. Getting ideas from others is one thing, but thinking we need to do everything just like someone else is different.

I’m not the best with doing science experiments. I usually like to wait until Daddy is home and then we do a whole bunch at once! Here we are experimenting with water. It was actually fun! (For me, I mean, I knew it would be for them already.) 😉
  • Let go of the “ideal.” Here’s my confession: today was the first day I did school with BOTH my 1st grader and preschooler. (We started 1st grade last week.) And the day itself was THE WORST. The school portion of the day wasn’t bad, but other factors led to the day being a “write-off.” The 20-month old has still taken 2 naps a day up until this point and picked today of all days to refuse the morning nap. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. Time to hash out a plan to keep her entertained during school (which I have plenty of resources for and I’ll be sharing in another post), I just wasn’t prepared for this today. During the off-school hours, kids were generally off the wall, a little disobedient, I was 36-week-pregnant-with-number-four-all-time-exhausted, I broke a dish filled with dip while pulling something out of the fridge, and even quiet time didn’t go smoothly. So the epic “first day of school” certainly wasn’t ideal, but when that happens, you absolutely cannot let it get you down! Life is messy. (But, you’d never know it if I just posted the pictures from our school time and never mentioned anything about the rest of the day. So, see, that’s another reason not to compare–you’re probably not even comparing your life to the true account of another’s!)

For Noah’s preschool year, we’re doing 1-week “units” that I’m pulling together from a bunch of different sources. Our first unit is on colors. He already knows them, but I like to start with something that’s reinforcing and not brand new. And we got to have this yummy snack of “rainbow” fruit with homemade whipped cream! We mixed our primary colors to make the secondary ones. It was fun AND delicious!
  • Curriculum is not “one size fits all.” If you have found an all-inclusive curriculum that meets all the needs of your family and you LOVE it, yay you!!! Honestly, our curriculum comes pretty close! Next year we’ll have to start supplementing in a few subjects but My Father’s World gives great suggestions for all supplements. (Click on the link to check our curriculum out!) This is our 3rd year using this curriculum and we absolutely love it! I realize not everyone has that experience, and that’s okay, too! And even if you’ve settled on a great curriculum, you don’t have to use it as is. I have to be flexible with our scheduling since I work part-time so I don’t always follow the curriculum’s outline exactly. Plus, my experience as a public school teacher gave me great supplemental ideas that I use all the time! I consider myself lucky that my oldest is mature and “advanced” enough that I could do kindergarten with her at age 4, no problem, and she loved it! That meant that I started first grade with her last year when she was 5, and could spread it over 2 years. So this year is technically our second year of 1st grade, but age-wise, she’s “officially” first grade! Taking first grade at a slower pace has meant being able to supplement with more fun activities, field trips, and make time for the toddler and baby on the way!

We ALL got into our colorful snack! So yummy!
  • Don’t be afraid to try something different! Homeschool parents can feel a lot of pressure to do things perfectly because the world’s eyes are on us for not doing things “conventionally” or not “leaving our child’s education to the ‘experts’.” This kind of pressure sometimes leads me to overthink my choices for fear of messing up and looking like I failed my kids. But I can tell you, even public school teachers have plans that fail! Lessons, and even whole units, don’t always go according to plan, so we have to adjust. Don’t be afraid to look into new curricula, supplemental materials, or to just reach out to other homeschool moms for support and ideas. I thought I was “set” this year for our curriculum, but I now find myself researching another curriculum to supplement what we’re already doing. It never ends! But I’m learning to follow my instincts and try new things when necessary.



10 Essentials to Keep in your Minivan this Summer!

IMG_9829Summer is finally here and most schools are getting out this week if they haven’t already. And even though we’ve been done with school for a few weeks, now, I still feel underprepared when that first full week of real summer weather hits us. (Wait, I’m going to be in a swimsuit this week?! Am I ready for this?? Have I shaved?! Do I even have time to shave?!?!) Not to mention, I still don’t have swim diapers for the 18-month old. Time to stock up on our summer gear and load up the van so we’re always prepared. Last year, I had our tailgate stocked with a bunch of “just in case” items that proved to be super helpful in getting us out of the house quickly and whenever we were staying somewhere longer than expected.

So, what should you have in your minivan or car this summer so you’re always prepared? I load up a big Thirty-One utility tote and keep it in the back. Here’s my list:

  1. A ziplock bag with sunscreen and bug spray. I don’t think an explanation is necessary, here. Common sense summer items you never want to be caught without!
  2. A ziplock bag with baby powder. This is a miracle-worker at getting wet sand off sticky little bodies/feet! I keep it in a bag so I don’t get powder all over the van.
  3. A gallon of water. Helpful in cleaning off dirty hands and feet, and in case of other emergencies. 🙂
  4. A bag of swim diapers & regular diapers–obviously only necessary if you have a child in diapers. Keeping an extra bag in the car is helpful to ensure you won’t run out. 😉
  5. An extra container of wet wipes. It doesn’t matter if you have kids in diapers or not, I think we all know that wet wipes are great for a number of reasons! Cleaning sticky hands, faces, water bottles, or the inside of the car itself!
  6. A bag of sweatshirts–one for each family member. You know the drill–you go somewhere during the day and it’s hot so everyone is in shorts and a T-shirt. But then you stay into the late evening and it cools down and you’re outside and now you’re chilly. Run to the van and grab a sweatshirt for those cooler summer nights!
  7. Kids’ beach toys & beach towels. I just keep these in the car so that when we do go to the lake or beach, it’s one less thing I have to pack that morning. I keep my kids’ beach toys in a large mesh laundry bag. This way I can easily shake all the sand out of everything before it goes back in the van, and the toys dry quickly. And yes, wash the towels between beach visits! 😉
  8. Umbrella stroller. Again, only if you have a child young enough for one. During spring and fall, I keep our jogging stroller in the van for those long walks and hikes, but during beach season it no longer fits so the umbrella stroller is perfect to always have on hand!
  9. Extra empty plastic bags. They act as extra trash bags for the “carry in/carry out” state parks, and laundry bags for those wet swimsuits that come off before the kids hop in their car seats. You can store a bunch in an old cylinder wet wipe container, too!
  10. Picnic blanket. I pretty much have this in my van all year ’round, but it’s worth mentioning.

Now you’re ready for whatever this summer has in store for you!