My family’s diary: Christmas survival guide

Delegate, delegate, delegate. And maybe invent a food allergy.

Child's drawing showing two children fightin over Christmas present


Christmas is almost upon us! I have two young children, aged 3.5 years and 1.5 years, and here’s my plan for surviving this month. I’m not sure how helpful my subjective “advice” will be but, at the very least, I hope it gives you a good laugh…


Illustration showing children's christmas gifts

Ignorance is bliss (part 1): I plan to make the most of the fact that my eldest child doesn’t yet have a “norm” for what Christmas involves, and my youngest doesn’t even know what Christmas is. Maybe you can create a laidback norm in these early years – in terms of gifts, spending, and general effort – that lasts into the future. Or at least you should enjoy these gentler years, before the advertising industry fights its way into your kids’ brains…

Some basic rules: Do not buy anything noisy, hard-to-assemble, stupidly expensive, too big for your lounge, too boring for the older child, too dangerous for the younger child, or that your children will fight over. So that rules out everything. Apart from maybe some satsumas in a stocking. (NB My kids also fight over satsumas, I’ve literally seen this happen.)

Deploy the grandparents: In my experience, grandparents love buying STUFF for kids just as much as we dread it. So I’ve delegated big gifts to them and I’m just getting some fun stocking-fillers. This obviously opens the door to grandparents buying something noisy, hard-to-assemble, too big for your lounge, dangerous, or that siblings will fight over. You can’t win them all.


Illustration showing adults' Christmas gifts

Secret Santa is your friend: Every Christmas, all the adults in my family buy each other well-intentioned but “meh” bits and pieces: a scarf you’ll never wear, some handcream that’s just fine, etc. Who has the time/money to do otherwise? Secret Santa is ideal – each person gets one nice gift. I’d be fine with a no-gifts-for-adults policy some years.

With one exception: The exception to all this is your partner, if you have one. Try to get them something THOUGHTFUL, to show them that they’re more than your co-pilot in childcare logistics. Obviously, you’re too tired and busy to have THOUGHTS. But a home-made voucher for a date-night, with no fixed date on it, is a good way of kicking the can down the road.

And remember – you are not Santa: I’m wary of becoming our family’s designated gift-buyer – this work must be shared. If you’re not doing a Secret Santa with your families, make a gift list and divide it with your partner, or ask them to take on another big task like meal-planning and cooking. In so many houses, “mum sorts it out” becomes the default, even when it comes to gifts for people she barely knows (eg sister-in-law’s boyfriend).


Illustration showing Christmas lunch

Delegate, delegate, delegate: Honestly, delegate as much of the cooking as possible – and don’t feel bad about it! I make our family meals everyday, on a budget, while juggling work and childcare. From what I can see, people who don’t do this take enormous pleasure in languorously cooking ornate dishes FROM ACTUAL RECIPE BOOKS, while drinking wine.

Ignorance is bliss (part 2): Can you find a way to be “unable” to cook the required dishes? I grew up in a strict vegetarian household and I’m still pretty clueless with cooking meat. And guess what everyone wants to eat at Christmas! This may involve you overplaying/fabricating a complex backstory, non-western cultural background, or food allergy. But go for it! She who dares…


Illustration showing Christmas tree

Be ready for the “Is Santa real?” question: My daughter asked me this for the first time last week. I went with: “Some people believe he’s real, some people believe it’s a nice story to tell at Christmas, and you’re free to choose what to believe. We’re all different.” But I umm-ed and ah-ed and flustered around for five minutes before proclaiming this wisdom, and she’d stopped listening by then.

Have fun: My favourite thing about Christmas isn’t the gifts (as you will have gathered). It’s all the cosy activities – markets, carol services, parades, putting up decorations, and so on. Even going for a walk around dark and cold streets feels a bit magical at the moment, because the kids and I make a game out of spotting the glowing trees and lights in people’s windows. They’ll be happy with the little things – and so will you. Have a great Christmas.

** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life when you have a career and pre-school children **

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