Creating Simple Family Traditions: The Day I Considered Murdering Our Elf on the Shelf

It would be so simple, really. He could get hit by a car or fall off the roof. Maybe the fire didn’t go out all the way and he burned to death. Maybe Santa has been struggling with the current economic situation and had to do some layoffs. Perhaps Dumbledore the Elf had a midlife crisis and ran off with his secretary.

Then it hit me.

It’s not poor Dumbledore’s fault I was so dreading his return. It’s mine.

The Elf on the Shelf is one of those adorable ideas that I embraced without really considering the fact that I am stuck with him for at least the next 10 years. When pics started popping up on Pinterest for all these precious and silly things our Elf could do, I only had two kids, everyone slept through the night, and I was clearly incredibly optimistic. Fast-forward a couple of years and a couple more kids and Elf-murder felt like a reasonable alternative.

I was doing it all wrong, though.

I was looking at these cute Pinterest Boards and forgetting that I’m not that mom. Oh, I’m that mom for a couple of days, but then I get overwhelmed and hide in the bathroom and cry. What I was forgetting was that I am good at simple. Elaborate plans are not my forte. Christmas magic gives me hives. Massive projects give me panic attacks, but there is no need to throw the Elf under a bus.

This is the season of family traditions and the traditions – according to social media – are getting more elaborate by the day. I’m here to tell you, though, that family traditions can be simple, fun, and continue long after we’ve unplugged the twinkle lights.

Our longest-standing and favorite family tradition started because I needed a halfway decent night’s sleep.

When our third-born was an infant, our older two were five and three. Our oldest was always a great sleeper, but number two still woke frequently and needed a lot of wind-down time before bed. I was co-sleeping with number three and felt like I hadn’t slept for more than two hours at a time in about 10 years. So, my brilliant husband said “how about we let the big boys sleep in the living room on Friday? We’ll watch a movie together and I’ll sleep on the couch, that way you and Owen can go to bed as early as you want.”

That was five years ago and Friday campout night lives on! Every Friday we watch a movie, eat pizza (sometimes we make it from scratch, sometimes we drive-thru Little Caesar’s for $5 hot n’ ready — because DRIVE THRU PIZZA), and the boys make their camping bed in the living room. They’re old enough now that the hubs doesn’t have to couch-sleep, and it is something we look forward to every week!

If you’re a mom that loves to go all out, then you do you, sister. You rock. I stand in awe of your craftiness and focus. If you’re like me, though, and like to keep it simple for the sake of your sanity, here are some family traditions that you may actually enjoy and be able to continue for years to come (without even considering Elficide):

  • I know Thanksgiving has already passed, but we started a new tradition this year that I just love! The day before Thanksgiving, when you’re either cooking or packing, have a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lunch. Watch a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and giggle about their feast of popcorn, jelly beans, pretzel sticks, and buttered toast and then let your kids know that is what they get to eat for lunch! I had to work Wednesday morning this year, but my boys stepped up and made the lunch almost entirely by themselves. They set the table, folded napkins, buttered the toast, and poured the drinks. We had an absolute blast and I can promise this will be a tradition that sticks around for our family.

  • Try Taco Tuesday, Mexican Monday, Pizza Friday, or whatever-your-family-gets-excited-to-eat day. When I was a kid we always had taco salad on Saturday night. My mom bought an Ortega Taco Dinner Kit and as she cooked, we watched Hee Haw. I feel certain my mom didn’t set out to make this a “Family Tradition,” but it’s what we did every week and the memory has stayed with me for over 30 years. Pick something that you can whip up easily and pick a day of the week. It’ll be a family tradition in no time!
  • Let the kids decorate the tree. I know, I know. I used to be a little obsessive about having the “perfect” tree. One year we even got a “kids’ tree” and a “living room tree” just so I could have my perfect tree and the boys could still have the fun of hanging some ornaments. Forget that. Your kids will only be in your home for a season, so let them have fun with the tree. The last couple of years I’ve been able to step back while my husband hangs the lights and the boys go crazy with the ornaments. Yes, a few ornaments have gotten broken. No, my tree will not be gracing the covers of a magazine. These memories will last a lifetime, though, so I’m going to say it’s worth it!

The Oliver boys decorating our tree while I sit back and try not to cringe at ornament placement.

  • One evening after the kids put on their jammies, drive around looking for Christmas lights! I remember doing this a few times as a kid and my family tries to squeeze it in each year, as well. Other than the cost of gas, this is a free little family outing that you can look forward to year after year. CMB contributor Katie even took the work out of looking for neighborhoods to drive through!
  • If you’re traveling this Christmas (or anytime of the year) make a convenience store stop before you get on the road. I kid you not, my kids’ absolute favorite thing about going on road trips is stopping for junk food at a convenience store. If I’m being honest, it’s kind of my favorite, too (combos and diet coke are my special road trip treat!) because it takes the work out of packing snacks. That’s right: I may be a fit and healthy mama, but traveling with six people and a dog is exhausting. One less thing for mama to do and my kids think it’s the best treat ever. WIN!

The thing is, mamas, you don’t have to be over-the-top magical to make memories with your kids. I am always blown away by the things my kids remember and what they look forward to. It’s almost never the things I’ve slaved over, fretted about, or put the most effort into that stick with them — it’s the tiny moments when I’ve done something super chill and fun.

So put away the glitter (unless that’s your thing), back away from the Elf on the Shelf, and create some simple family traditions that will stand the test of time.

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