Best tips for working parents during the holiday season

By: Valerie Riley

A few years ago, my husband Brent goofed. He signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime and forgot to cancel after the requisite three months. If you are unfamiliar with this service, it’s a set fee that covers shipping on most products for a year.  This turned out to be the best mistake ever. That December, Amazon became my go-to for holiday shopping. The kids did not even notice a few plain boxes at the front door. Now, my number one tip for working parents during the holidays is get Amazon Prime!

It’s not your imagination – holidays are stressful. The American Psychological Association’s 2008 holiday stress poll showed that more than eight out of 10 Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season. Further, households with children were more likely to report anticipating stress during the holidays than those without. Add two careers into the mix, and you’ve got a hectic six weeks.

Below, several Gainesville working parents shared their tips for making the holidays more enjoyable and less stressful.

Mendi Conner is a mother of two boys and a Senior GIS Consultant at Critigen. She and her husband both work full time and she feels the squeeze. “I always feel like I’m struggling to keep up with expectations,” she said, “whether they’re my own expectations or those of folks around me.”

While she commits to doing Christmas cards every year, she breaks up the task and is not in a hurry. “I work a little bit on them each night for at least a week to get them assembled, labeled and sent,” she said. “By no means am I aiming to be the first to have their cards arrive to our friends and family, but I must have them arrive before Christmas.”

Julie Smith, another local working mom, makes homemade gift giving a priority since it is something she both enjoys and finds economical. She gets her children in on the action, as well, so it serves as quality time.

Smith has a staff of 50 at her job as Wound Care Clinical Coordinator for UF Health and likes to give a personal gift to each person. “One year I made turkeys out of candy for Thanksgiving and gave them out to all my staff,” she said. “Another thing I make is chocolate bark using white chocolate, dark chocolate and crushed candy canes. It’s just like the kind from Williams-Sonoma, but a lot cheaper!”

Smith does similar gifts for the children’s friends and neighbors and is convinced that it saves time and money overall. Her tip is to buy things in bulk and then portion it out.”

Dr. Alissa Dragstedt is the owner of Grins & Giggles Pediatric Dentistry. As a dentist, business owner and mom, she is always on the run. Her best holiday tip is to harness technology.

One thing that helps me a lot is Pinterest,” she says. “If we have family in town, I create a Pinboard with the menu of what food I will be making. It helps me to organize and it is really easy to modify.”

What happens when your busiest time at home is also your busiest time at work? Ask Amy Blanchard, a mom to two school-age children and a store manager for Publix. Blanchard survives this double whammy with technology – she considers Siri to be her personal assistant.

“I use it to set up reminders of things I need to do so I don’t get busy and forget,” she says. The family also uses dry erase calendar so they can see all December events at a glance and not accidentally double-book.

Jennifer Denault is a mom and COO for the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention. She suggests working parents play to their strengths when approaching the season, treating it like any other project they might plan and tackle on the job. “With a hectic work schedule, friends and family, and the kids’ activities, if I do not make a conscious effort to plan for everything then I can’t be sure it will happen.”

Planning and then having a strategy works for her. She adds, “Understand that something has got to give, but if you can hit the highs then you have success.”

Maybe keeping your sense of humor is the best tip of all? One local mom (who shall remain anonymous) had the following suggestions: “Do the bare minimum, stay off Facebook and drink heavily. And when in doubt, wait long enough and it will all pass. There is always next year!”

However you accomplish the holidays, know that other working parents are trying their best as well. Pick your priority and try to enjoy the season.


Valerie_color-web Valerie Riley is Senior Manager of Marketing Communications for Info Tech, Inc. She and her husband Brent are working parents to two school-age children.

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