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In our house, it doesn’t feel like Christmas until we’ve baked and decorated cookies, put up the Christmas tree and manger scene, and watched our DVD of "A Muppet Christmas Carol."

And that’s about all it takes. We’re a little light in the tradition department, I realize, but it has been a conscious effort to keep things simple and reduce stress. We’ve retained only the traditions that bring us joy and are able to be maintained even in the busiest of holiday seasons.

One tradition we've abandoned is our annual trip to the Christmas tree farm. We used to dress in our warmest clothes, pop our favorite Christmas music into the cassette player (always sentimental, I still have those cassettes, but no player!) and drive out to Dousman. We’d wander among the trees until we found the best match for our living room, although it would invariably be about a foot too tall.

When our daughter reached high school and our weekends were filled with swim meets, work and other events, we would try to go on our Christmas tree adventure after school. We soon realized that the early December dusk was not ideal for finding an attractive tree. Then one year we decided to take a post-Christmas vacation and decided an artificial tree would be safer and better for my allergies. And—poof—that tradition was gone.

I’m convinced that keeping expectations low is the one way to maintain your sanity and keep the family happy around the holidays. When you’re working, managing a home and juggling kids’ schedules, high expectations for the holidays can make you anxious and miserable. That innate parental desire to create the perfect holiday they’ll always remember is a set-up for guilt and disappointment if it doesn’t reach your impossible standards.

For instance, making 10 different kinds of Christmas cookies—because your grandma always did—doesn’t make sense to me if it keeps you from spending quality time with your kids. Decorating every square inch of your house seems ridiculous if you have to nag your kids to help or argue with your spouse the entire time to get it done “right.”

Teens pull away from their family throughout the year, and holiday traditions are not exempt. If you try to maintain every tradition that you started when your kids were little, your teens will balk, there will be fights, and you’ll end up feeling worse than if you didn’t maintain the tradition at all.

My advice: ask your kids what their favorite holiday traditions are. They may surprise you and not mention any of the time-consuming things you thought were so important to them. They may come up with a couple of things you never really considered traditions at all.

Listening to them makes all the difference in the world. It may help you let go of old traditions that don’t mean much to the family anymore. It can help you embrace a simpler holiday that’s more focused on family, friends and fellowship. And it can help you create a more meaningful holiday.

So for the teens in your family, strike a compromise. Decide on a few traditions that require their participation. Consult the calendar together and give them fair warning of when they’ll take place.

If there are younger children in the family, go ahead with any additional traditions that make you and the young’uns happy. Maybe your teen will join you. Maybe not, but don’t fret about it.

By keeping your expectations in check and your traditions limited to a special few, your teen will stick around without spending the entire time begging to go to his girlfriend’s house or the mall with his buddies. She might even leave her phone on silent mode.

And you’ll all remember the holiday you didn’t spend arguing and sulking. Happy holidays!

Maureen Connors Badding is a Wauwatosa freelance writer, mom and habitual volunteer.

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