An Open Letter to the Overwhelmed Parent at Christmas

This article is part of the Open Letters series.

Dear friend,

Are you tired yet? Maybe you stayed up late last night stuffing and licking envelopes because you want to get your Christmas cards out before it gets too close to Christmas. Or maybe you were up in the night with a sick kid (because Christmas season also falls smack in the middle of cold and flu season). As exciting as the Christmas season is for a family, it also utterly exhausting. There is just so much to get done.

I used to start listening to Christmas music in September. The minute the pool closed on Labor Day weekend I was ready for my next favorite time of year (after summer)—Christmas. I began dreaming of how I would decorate the house. I researched when all of the Hallmark Christmas movies aired. I did all my shopping before Thanksgiving (or right after), so my presents could be wrapped and shipped by early December. I even made my Christmas list early. I wanted the Christmas season to last forever, so I started it earlier than most. I wanted to savor it, appreciate it, and ponder the true meaning of Christmas, so I worked hard to get ahead so I could let it linger.

Glory in the Ordinary

Courtney Reissig

This book combats misunderstandings about the value of at-home work to help moms see how Christ infuses glorious meaning and significance into every facet of ordinary life.

But then I had kids—four of them in rapid succession.

Now I look up from the madness only to see that it’s already Halloween and I haven’t listened to a single Christmas song.

A couple of years ago I lamented to my husband that nothing ever feels like Christmas anymore. I am just going through the motions, rushing from one thing to the next. I buy treats for a class party—check it off my list. I buy presents for my nieces and nephews—check it off my list. I attend the church Christmas concert—check it off my list. I find a good Advent devotional—check it off my list. I do a lot of things at Christmas time, but I rarely feel prepared. It often feels like my days of quietly pondering the meaning of the incarnation are long over. My head is filled with too many things to ponder anything else. My house is filled with too much noise to add quiet to my pondering attempts. See why I am tired?

I know I am not alone in my angst about the busyness and the desire for peace and calm in the anticipation of the birth of our Savior. I’ve talked to some of you at class parties. I know we are all stressed this season. But for the believer, the most important thing we can do this Christmas is not wrap another present, but open up our hearts and minds anew to the wonder of God coming to earth.

I know you don’t need one extra thing to do, but I hope these “holiday resets” will give you the margin you need to celebrate even in the midst of the busyness. From one busy parent to another, let’s try to remember why we celebrate, and recapture the wonder in the process.

Remember Your Goals

The goal of every Christmas season should be to focus our hearts on Christ. If nothing else happens, this must happen. At the risk of sounding cliché, he is the reason for this season, and every season. If we miss him, we have missed everything. The family goal during Advent must always be to treasure Christ above all else. Your implementation of this goal might look different than mine, but we all have the same goal. We are all aiming for the same outcome—worshiping the Savior as a family. Whenever something creeps into our lives during a busy season we should assess whether it helps us accomplish this goal. And if it doesn’t, it’s okay to throw it out for a time, maybe even forever.

Look at Your Calendar

This might seem really silly, but sometimes we just need to look at our calendar in order to see what is expected of us (and what can be postponed until the new year). Those dentist appointments you wanted to get in on Christmas break? They may be important, but they can wait just a little while longer (don’t tell my dentist). The play date with a friend you haven’t seen in a while? Again, it might be important, but if it backs up your calendar then it is not necessary. Remember the goal? Treasure Christ above all else this season. So if having extra little people in your house overwhelms you for days, even if the friend is amazing and encourages you to love Christ more, it’s okay to wait until after Christmas.

The way you help your family treasure Jesus this Christmas is by telling them about him.

But there is another way you can look at your calendar to assess if it is moving your family toward the goal. You can ask if your calendar is filled with things that drive you to remember Christ this season. Do you have time to serve on there? Do you have time to read scripture together scheduled on there? Do you have time to pray for your heart on there? It might seem silly to schedule all of these things, but this is a letter to busy parents, so I imagine you all have given into a schedule long ago. Sometimes, especially in our busiest times, we need to schedule our most important things in order for them to happen. This leads to our last holiday “reset,” which is the most important one—after you have set your goal and cleared your calendar.

Read, Sing, and Pray Together

By doing the above “resets” you make room for the most important things a busy parent can do during Christmas—take your family to the story of the Savior. It might seem simple, but sometimes just reading, singing, and praying together stirs our affections for Jesus. I know it does mine. And Christmas is filled with wonderful hymns that remind us of why Jesus came. The way you help your family treasure Jesus this Christmas is by telling them about him. You can read the Old Testament accounts that promise his birth, then read of the New Testament accounts that tell of his birth. You can read of why he needed to come and what his life and death accomplished. You can read of how he is coming again, and that we are also a waiting people, longing for the return of our Savior. And then you can sing great songs of old that Christians have been singing all throughout the centuries. You can pray for new hearts in the lives of your kids, asking that the gift of the new birth would be theirs this Christmas. You can pray that their lives would be shaped not by consumerism, but by sacrifice and worship.

If this sounds overwhelming to you, I get that too. Even when you clear your calendar and set goals, adding something else that might not be a normal part of your routine can be hard—even awkward. So start small. Read one verse in the Bible, read one story out of the children’s Bible, and then call it a night. Maybe the next night you can sing a song—or you can even sing a song while you are driving to church on Sunday. The point is intentionality, not quantity. The point is that our kids see Jesus, not busyness, as the reason for the season. Remember the goal, clear the calendar, start small, and worship King Jesus. He came once and he’s coming again. May he be the treasure of your family this busy holiday season.

To God be the Glory,

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