The magic of Christmas with children
There is nothing like viewing the magic of Christmas through a child’s eyes. Every parent lives to see their children happy. Santa, snow, presents – everything Christmas brings, results in excited little squeals from your children like nothing else. And being a parent to young kids returns a bit of that Christmas magic from your own youth that had dissipated a little as you got a little older and a lot more jaded. Papa Ginge and I regularly re-watch this video we made last Christmas as Arlo’s reaction (‘he’s been, he’s been’) warms our black-hearted souls like nothing else. My kids have only just begun to ‘get it’ and I’m already dreading the day they no longer believe. It is wonderful, and one of the best things about having kids.
But, like with many aspects of parenthood, when it comes to Christmas, I wonder why I ever complained about it being busy and stressful pre-kids. Like with being sick, pre-kids you got to lay and watch movies, sleep when you needed to and rest without having to do night feeds, breastfeeds, toddler nappies and meals. What was I complaining about in the past?! I used to think Christmas was busy. I used to find it a little stressful trying to find the perfect present for everyone, juggle my budget and fit in all the shopping around Christmas festivities and nights out. Now, that sounds like a goddamn holiday.
Shopping with kids
Pre-kids: Shopping trips to different cities with leisurely lunches and hot chocolate breaks. Visits to quaint Christmas markets to pick up bespoke trinkets.
With kids: I have a 2 and 5-year-old. Taking them shopping is not fun. The 5-year-old gets bored. The two-year old runs off and steals toys (she has a future working for MI5 the way she can sleuth them out). They both make pleas for us to spend all our money on overpriced tat. They need toilet breaks and nappy changes frequently in gross public loos where you desperately beg ‘don’t touch anything…especially not that toilet seat’.
I’m so thankful we have online shopping now, that really helps. I try hard not to take my kids Christmas shopping with me especially as it’s so busy but occasionally I have to and I usually need a therapeutic alcoholic beverage afterwards to help me deal with the trauma. Generally I won’t have bought anything I needed and panic bought something I didn’t need plus 12 surprise eggs.
Pre-kids: Chilling on a weekend morning wrapping together with a cup of tea and some Christmas tunes on.
With kids: If it’s their presents you have to wait till they’ve gone to bed and pray to the powers that be that they don’t wake up or catch you in the act (the only act they’ll catch you at these days, such are the grade A cock blocks that they are).
Even if it’s not their presents they want to ‘help’ and that’s a blood pressure raiser. My 2-year-old tries to open the gifts you’ve already wrapped or throws a tantrum because she can’t have the toys meant for our nieces and nephews. It’s a much quicker and less stressful process to do it if they aren’t around.
Fortunately, our kids are sleeping a little better these days but up until 1.5 years of age, Lena would only sleep on us in a baby carrier until midnight so wrapping on an evening wasn’t possible. We had to book a babysitter and get our kids out the house to be able to wrap. Thankfully, that’s not the case for us anymore but if that’s you – it will pass, hang in there!
Illnesses and all the stuff
Pre-kids: You get sick you can rest on evenings and get all the sleep you want. You can lay on the sofa watching Christmas movies while you recover. The only person’s moods you need to consider are your own, which you are in control of. You have every evening and weekend to do all of the stuff that you need to do.
With kids: In December you can guarantee that a few family illnesses will occur. As I write this, both my kids were up all night – my 5-year-old with a vomiting bug and fever. My daughter with a cold and cutting her final molars. Pile that on top of long work days and December deadlines and most mothers of littles I know are feeling frazzled. I’ve definitely lost my temper more than normal lately and felt a little teary on more than one occasion.
You can also never predict children’s moods or how they will react to something. That’s why so many parents have photos of children crying at Santa (that and it’s creepy AF). Sometimes you plan what you expect will be the most magical day and they aren’t feeling it or skip a nap and act like Tasmanian devils.
Life in general is just harder and busier with kids, you don’t get all that down time you used to on evenings and weekends. You are already running on empty and forever chasing your to-do list as it is. We bed-share with our kids, it’s literally a 24/7 job.
So much more to plan, buy and wrap
Pre-kids: You buy for family and friends. That’s it, job done.
With kids: Unfortunately, my son was 2 weeks late so has a 23rd December birthday. This adds a lot of extra expense and stuff to do at Christmas. Even aside from having a Christmas baby though, prior to kids we just had family members and friends to buy for. Now, the main buying event is for my kids. They are the ones we buys the most for and spend the most on. What we used to stress about before almost seems like a small aside now. This means Christmas is likely to cost a lot more post kids. For us, it doubled when we had our first and then again after our second. Christmas didn’t use to have such a huge impact but now, we have to plan and save for it for sure.
Arguments about spending
Pre-kids: Each of us chose what to spend and bought gifts for our own side of the family. No discussion or disagreements.
With kids: Of course, you can spend less and buy smaller more meaningful gifts but I live with a spendthrift (as I’ve spoken about before here) who thinks he has a Harrods budget when he has a Primark bank balance. Papa Ginge and I disagree on how much we should spend every year. I spend time asking people/googling what amount we should spend. Does anyone know how much we are meant to spend?! I try to barter papa Ginge down, he wants to buy ALL THE THINGS.
Apart from the financial expense, I worry most about the children becoming spoiled and not understanding the value of money and truly appreciating what they are given. It all feels like a balancing act with lots of things to consider. If we begin too big then there is no going back later.
Pre-kids: People ask you what you want for Christmas, and perhaps what your partner wants.
With kids: Our kids are fortunate that they have very generous adults in their lives. Their grandparents, aunties and uncles really spoil them which is lovely. However, they often want to know in advance what the kids want. Usually a long time before I’ve been able to figure out what they want myself yet.
I like to wait as long as possible before buying as my kids tend to change their minds last-minute rendering gifts you’ve pre-bought useless. The year Arlo turned 2 he loved cars so we got a lot of car gifts. Then he watched the Polar Express that December and fell for trains HARD (nearly as hard as I fell for Jamie Fraser, och). His 4 year intense train obsession began and cars were passé. We could either give him cars to a lukewarm response or return them and get trains and make his day. Obviously we did the latter but it’s one of the reasons I’d rather leave it late. That frustrates my family though as they are early Christmas shoppers starting in October. I’m writing this on December 11th and we have loads to still buy.
Buying for family members for the kids
Pre-kids: You plan what you want and what your partner wants and let family members know.
With kids: Now what we have to do is try to map out what the kids want across Christmas and for Arlo’s 23rd December birthday too. Then we have to assign them via financial values to family members depending on how much they are spending and what to give. It’s like a countdown-eque maths puzzle. We legit have a spreadsheet with auto-formulas (thank the goddess that Papa Ginge can do spreadsheets properly). This year we had bought many presents already and felt like we were winning with our Christmas planning but then they were divvied up to family and we were left with nothing and had to begin again. I know, I know, first world problems, we can’t juggle all the gifts people want to buy, tiny violin. It’s not a real problem by any stretch, but it is something to do and adds to my festive workload.
Pre-kids: Prior to having kids we would just pop all the gifts under the tree. It looked so cute.
With kids: Now it’s like a hybrid game of hide and seek versus Jenga versus the Crystal Maze – on steroids. Where can we push a dress up horse outfit for a 3-year-old (don’t even ask) so she won’t find it??! I even have to hide our gifts for other people so they don’t see them and want to open them. With a house already full to the rafters with kids clothes, toys and ‘stuff’, adding a birthday and Christmas into the mix makes the house feel like Santa’s waistband – bursting at the seams.
Where to put all the new toys!
That leads me onto the problem of where all the new toys go!
Pre-kids: No toys were received. Storage not an issue.
With kids: I can’t be the only parent out there to be getting a headache about where all the new toys will go. As I just mentioned, our house is already at full capacity. We are going to be like the old woman who lived in a shoe, except that shoe will be a house made out of Lego. Santa, all I want for Christmas is more toy storage…
Pre-kids: You are on a festive countdown until your annual leave starts. You might have worked up some flexi so you can leave early on your last day.
With kids: You have no flexi or annual leave as you’ve used it all for kids being sick or the COPIUS amounts of school/nursery festivities that require your attendance – parties, fairs, nativities and early finishes. In the last two weeks of school, I was required to go into the school in the middle of the day 4 times. That’s with one child in school. It’s like they think parents don’t have to work.
Forgetting about yourself
Pre-kids: For me, it has always been the run up to Christmas itself that I’ve loved. It’s not really about the day itself but the lead up – the tree, the snow, Christmas movies, the excitement – hope!
With kids: This is the bit that it ruins a little for me now. I’m so busy that I don’t get to take the time to savour these things. There is no chance I’m going to be able to watch a Christmas film that’s not child friendly. When friends and family ask me what I would like for Christmas I’ve not even had time to think about what I want. I’m so tired and frantic I can’t remember what I have told people, or even if I have spoken to them. I honestly won’t be able to guess my gifts at Christmas because I’ve no idea what the hell is going on anymore. It’s just not about you anymore.
You are not alone
So I guess the point of this post was to say if you are feeling overwhelmed in this way, you are not alone. This post isn’t just about me whingeing but is about realising that there is power in acknowledging that it is harder than it was before. It’s not that you are shit, or disorganised or not ‘Pinteresty’ enough. It isn’t you! It’s this way for all/most of us and we are all learning on the job.
There is just so much more shit (figuratively and literally) than there was before. Every year the kids are older and just as you think you’ve figured it out, stuff changes and they grow up on you again. We are all doing the best we can with what we have.We need to lower our expectations and let go of those perfectionist tendencies. We all need to cut ourselves (and each other) some slack and recognise that whilst we may not be perfect, whatever we do will be enough. The great thing about kids is they find happiness everywhere.
It’s obviously totally worth it
And of course, like with everything when it comes to kids, the good obviously outweighs the bad. I’d take all the stuff to do and stress any day to see their little faces on Christmas morning. I know every parent reading this will feel the same and I’m sure parents of older kids will be saying make the most of this before it’s gone. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know what gifts I’ll be getting. I’ll get more joy from seeing them open their gifts than I get from opening my own anyway!
So, now I’ve got this off my chest, I’m going to stop complaining, put on my best Christmas tunes and have a glass of mulled wine! As long as we are all healthy and together, Christmas will be perfect.