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The Lazy Parent's Guide to Christmas

Photograph by Getty Images

There’s a lot of pressure out there to be a perfect parent (especially, let’s face it, a perfect mother). Never is this more true than at Christmas—a period of time that now seems to stretch from around the first of November until the kids go back to school after New Year's Day.

It’s a two-month blur of parties, decorations, baking and crafts. If you’re anything like me, your Facebook feed is clogged with pictures of other mothers’ creatively posed elves, recipes of the cookies they’re going to bake with their kids for Santa, and links to all the awesomely artisanal gifts your kids can make (with your patient guidance, of course, and a few hours of tracking down materials).

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More power to the hardworking Christmas parents. I mean it. Invite me to your parties, and I will come. Give my child a home-baked cookie, and I will be as grateful as he is.

But don’t make me live up to your standards, because it’s not happening. I am a lazy parent, both because I have my own work to do and also because a part of me feels that kids today get enough—honestly, more than enough—focus on them.

And, oddly enough, I’ve found that lowering my effort has lessened the tension I feel around the holidays. Along with the artfully soft-focus photos and lovingly curated magical moments, my Facebook feed is also awfully full of angst and guilt. Mothers talk about missing sleep because they stayed up too late creating the perfect elf tableau, or they beat themselves up for the failure to do so.

Enough, I say. If you’re tired of feeling inadequate and looking for a way to enjoy the holidays without stress, I have the answer. Here’s how the lazy parent does things:

No child will feel cheated if the house isn’t mobbed with poinsettias.

1. Do not make a big deal about Santa Claus. Your child will learn all she or he needs to know about Santa by being a sentient human being living in the United States. Seriously, do you think you need to teach your child about Santa Claus at home, because somehow it’s a topic that’s not mentioned enough on television, on the radio or at the mall? Follow your kids' lead—if Santa matters to them, they don’t need you to promote the idea. If Santa doesn’t, why on Earth would you push it? Some parents will protest that the holiday just isn’t the same without the “magic” of Santa. To that I say, what’s more magical than gifts, a tree full of lights, a gorgeous assortment of songs to sing and the smell of cookies? Keep it simple.

2. Decorate minimally. Find the one or two things you and your children really love—maybe it’s the stockings, maybe it’s the tree—and do those things well. But do not go and spend hundreds at the local craft store to fill your home with holiday tchotchkes. Do not wrap a swath of evergreen around your hallway banister (unless you want needles pricking your hands for a month). No child will feel cheated if the house isn’t mobbed with poinsettias. They do mostly like the Trader Joe’s chocolate advent calendar, though. It costs a dollar—do that one.

3. Enjoy (and let your family enjoy) holiday gatherings that don’t require your own effort. Go to the local tree lighting, if there is one. Visit the neighborhood craft fair. If someone is going caroling, join in! There is so much Christmas celebrating out there that doesn’t require you to do anything more than show up! And here’s a little secret: most of them are more meaningful and memorable than the labor-intensive stuff you feel guilty about not doing.

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4. Leave your kids alone a little (or a lot, depending on their ages). Many modern parents (again, judging from my Facebook page) seem to worry about how well they’re introducing their children to Christmas. They want to be right in there, helping their child experience the magic of the holiday. Ease off. Think of your own memories of Christmas. For me, the one I remember and cherish the most is watching the old black-and-white movie version of A Christmas Carol on a tiny TV in my older brother’s room. It was the one night of the year he’d let me and our youngest brother sleep there. We would fall asleep on his floor, bathed in the flickering television light. It was strange and magical and had zero to do with our parents. Part of the beauty of the holiday (or of life, for that matter) is having some parent-free space in which to discover it—if there’s anything you give your kids this year, let it be that.

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