Gill South seeks advice on preserving her sanity and juggling childcare in the run-up to Christmas

Okay, woohoo! We're into the last shopping week before Christmas, but I'm not panicking, I've been pretty well organised this year. Online shopping is a marvellous thing.

For some unknown reason, my kids' schools are breaking up today. What sort of cruel joke is that for working parents? It's probably a half-day too. I may as well write the whole week off.

I have checked and, to my great relief, their favourite holiday tennis programme is happening in the run-up to Christmas, so I'll give them a couple of days to collapse - it's tough being a kid these days - and then send them off for a couple of mornings of coaching. They absolutely love it, it's no chore for them and I can get some work done.

Looking for some encouragement about the seven weeks ahead of me, I call parenting expert, Diane Levy, author of Of Course I Love You ... Now Go To Your Room. I get the feeling she's pretty happy she is past the hands-on parenting stage in life. She's a doting grandmother these days.


Her advice to me is to let the kids mooch about for the first few days - I'll have to drop my stringent screen-time standards - but after allowing those initial few days of sloth, to get them up and out of their PJs by a decent hour. After three days, kids need structure, says Diane. Otherwise they will start to fight or whinge. Oh yes, that's my two.

Everyone responds differently to exhaustion, says Diane. Some just want to curl up with a book (one of my boys does that), while others just want to do an activity they can lose themselves in (that sums up my other one).

I think where a lot of people come a-cropper is that they charge up to Christmas Eve, not taking a breath. Having the boys home the week before rather restrains me but that can be a good thing. It means I will have to stop trying to do too much. Living as we do, within walking distance of St Lukes shopping centre, I plan to start insisting that we walk there because the traffic is so abysmal. That'll put the kids off.

As usual, we'll be making quite a few of our gifts for friends, so lots of baking is scheduled.

Diane advises against shopping with the kids. Wouldn't dream of it. One thing I enjoy before Christmas is the late, late-night shopping - popping into a shopping centre at 10pm is surprisingly restful, I find. Reminds me of when I used to go grocery shopping at night when the kids were babies and home with their dad. It was "my time".

Diane says the holidays are a great opportunity to get the kids into some regular domestic chores, like setting the table, stacking the dishwasher. You actually have the time to make sure they are doing them, she says. I'll give it a go - they always rave about how they did the dishes at school camp. Didn't seem to transfer home, funnily enough.

Well good luck, everyone, on still being on speaking terms with your little cherubs by Christmas Day and beyond. And don't try to do too much in the week before Christmas. That way lies madness.

Next week: We are off to the beach on December 28. I want to be beach-ready but have discovered it is my eyes, not just my skin I should be worried about burning.