Winter is, in many ways, like a circus. Black Hills families have a lot going on this time of year; between sports and other extracurricular activities, school recitals, preparing for the holidays, winter break, 4th-quarter work deadlines, and those inevitable, unexpected snow days, it’s a real juggling act. Many parents feel like they’re walking a tightrope; keeping the household functioning smoothly requires perfectly choreographed acrobatic maneuvers. But the show must go on!

Local parents have plenty of tricks up their sleeves for taming the winter circus. We reached out to learn how they deal with this hectic season and were reminded of something in the process: for all the chaos of a three-ring circus, it’s still the greatest show on earth. 

Create a family calendar. 

Keeping track of wintertime activities is next to impossible unless you are blessed with a photographic memory. A calendar will help ensure all family members are on the same page (literally) and allow you to plan your schedule without missing important events. You can opt for an old-school calendar to hang in a prominent place in your home, or if your kids are older and have their own smartphones, you may wish to download a family calendar app that can be shared among multiple users.

Prepare the night before.

Mornings can be hectic when you’re trying to get everybody out the door on time. Eliminate the stress by preparing ahead the night before. Make lunches, pack snacks, program the coffeemaker, choose and layout clothes and sports gear, fill backpacks and briefcases, and have shoes and coats ready to go. Set a good example by having your own essentials packed and ready to go, too. Showering at night instead of in the morning will also save time.

Share responsibilities.

It’s impossible to be in two places at once, so when the kids have competing activities, split up the driving and other duties. Have one parent take a child to hockey practice while the other goes to the dance recital. Even better, set up a carpool with other families and take turns giving rides. Don’t feel bad if you can’t attend every single event; prioritize in advance and make an effort to go to the most important ones.

Plan easy meals.

Let’s face it, we can’t all be Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen when our schedules are crammed with activities. Simple dinners prepared ahead of time are your best friend on busy weeknights. Take advantage of the crockpot and Instant Pot, two excellent timesavers, or reheat freezer meals or leftovers. Got no time to cook? Fix easy meals you can take along with you, such as sandwiches and healthy sides (carrot sticks are delicious and portable). Avoid the temptation to hit the fast-food drive-through, saving that for special occasions.

Limit activities.

It’s okay to draw the line if activities are filling up too much of your spare time. Limit kids to one sport or extracurricular activity per season; for instance, let them choose between basketball, theatre, music, and dance—but not all four. They can switch to a different activity the following semester. It’s important to have well-rounded interests, but schoolwork should never take a backseat to extracurricular activities. If your kids have too much going on, homework is likely to suffer.

Group errands together.

When time is a precious commodity, organize your outings so you can get as much done in one trip as possible. Need to do grocery shopping, get a haircut, and have your tires rotated? Schedule these all for the same morning or afternoon to eliminate multiple trips back and forth. Shop online whenever possible; prices are often cheaper, and you can’t beat the convenience of having items delivered directly to your door. Grocery delivery and meal prep services can save you a lot of time when things are especially hectic.

Ease up on holiday traditions.

Many people go overboard during the holiday season, but unless your name is Clark Griswold, there’s no need to overdo it; this just causes stress and anxiety. Keep decorations simple; if your outdoor lights are visible to passing aircraft, consider downsizing. Likewise, you don’t have to attend every holiday party you are invited to, bake every holiday cookie you have a recipe for, or watch every holiday movie in your collection. If a tradition begins to feel like a chore, eliminate it from your routine.

Build-in some downtime.

Rest and relaxation are important; they allow you to decompress and enjoy the magic of the holidays. Build time into your schedule to focus on the joys of the season—the holidays will be over in the blink of an eye. Make a snowman or have a snowball fight with your kids, take a family stroll through the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, assemble gingerbread houses, or simply devote an entire day to staying in your pajamas, watching movies, and drinking hot chocolate.

Ask for help.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance from family and friends when needed. Grandparents will likely jump at the chance to spend time with their grandkids, especially during the holidays. If you host a fancy dinner every year, ask guests to bring side dishes while you focus on the main entree. You can even suggest a potluck instead. Too bogged down to keep up with house cleaning? Hire a cleaning service to spruce up the place before having people over. If your job is flexible, see if you can work from home occasionally, or bring your laptop along if you’re waiting for your kids to finish a practice or rehearsal (just don’t bust it out during an actual game or recital).

Keep the kids entertained.

Whether they’re home for winter break or a snow day (see sidebar), the last thing you want to hear are those dreaded words, “I’m bored!” If the weather outside isn’t too frightful, encourage them to go for a walk, build a snowman or snow fort, or go sledding. Stuck indoors? They can try listening to music and dancing, playing board games or video games that require movement, reading, and building a blanket fort. If you can get away for a few hours, take them to the library, YMCA, museum, bowling alley, or skating rink. If they still complain about having nothing to do, you can always put them to work cleaning the house. It’s amazing how quickly they’ll change their tune once you threaten them with chores!

curated by Mark Petruska
illustration by Ardea A.