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The holidays are approaching, unless of course you live in Target, and then the holidays have been here for a few months already. All of the hoopla can give the impression we must go big or go home. Big meals, big spending and big gatherings. For some this sounds like one giant party! For others, it’s cause to feel paralyzed by whopping expectations. We hear a thousand messages from just as many directions about what our holiday season should look, feel, smell and taste like. No one can do it all. Unless they don’t need to sleep, they have unlimited funds and children who always behave. Like I said, no one.

Loving our actual holidays means our plans must meet up with the real life of teething babies, kids on sugar highs and extended family dynamics. We celebrate within the context of our reality, of our actual lives. Where limitations in part dictate decisions. I’ve evolved from the mom who tried to create the “perfect Christmas” to the resentful woman who was trying to do more than one human could, to the realist who knows how to love my actual holiday season. I’ve learned curbing the madness starts with a few questions and a few boundaries, and must be done now before our schedule is over stuffed.

First, the questions. What do I want my kids to remember 20 years from now? Let’s take Christmas as the Big Daddy example. Is it presents on Christmas morning? The candlelight service on Christmas Eve? Going to see Santa at the mall? But here’s the catch, I’m not allowed to answer, “All of it.” There’s that temptation to go big on all the things and that’s not how actual lives operate.

I must make some choices and decide on three events we will prioritize as a family. There may be extras, more invitations and parties we can fit in, but I’ve determined ahead of time what is important to us (and by us I mean those who live under my same roof). As manager of our family calendar, I put these events on the calendar NOW and allow other things to fall into place over the next few months. In other words, I determine our priorities before they determine us.

Now that I’ve put our biggies in place, I can set boundaries in areas that can begin to take on a life of their own: money and time. I determine how much we want to spend over our normal monthly budget. When I go into the season with a concrete number, I’m simply less likely to overspend. The same is true for time. When I know being out three nights in a row sends the four year old into a certain meltdown mode, I graciously decline invitations that don’t work given our family’s established priorities.

I realize I make all of this sound simple. There are dynamics and differences of opinion between spouses, extended family, in-laws, and employers that prevent clean, easy decisions. When I say I manage the family calendar, that doesn’t mean I am a dictator about it. I must take into account many factors when deciding what’s important to my little clan. But I promise from the very bottom of my heart you will love your actual holidays a little more if you set some priorities now, even if it means having some difficult conversations in the process. Take it from the woman who once wished the holidays away. I now look forward to them in all of their bigness because I know I can do them my way. The way that works for my actual family.

Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, ages 3 to 12, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She writes to capture the places where motherhood meets everyday life to remember the small, yet significant moments in the midst of the blur. She is the author of The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir , a contributor to this year’s Be you, Bravely, An Experiment in Courage and acts as the Specialty Content Editor for MOPS International. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at