Hi, it’s me, Irene, and I actually hate Halloween.

I have no interest in spookiness, I don’t need somebody else’s permission to eat candy, and the sound of the words “pumpkin patch” literally makes me start to sweat and itch. Before kids, my Octobers were filled with watching football and declining any invitation to dress up in costume.

So how have I made peace with this spooky orange mess of a holiday? By getting to enjoy it through the eyes of my two sweet, snuggly, silly monsters. With a little preparation and realistic expectations, kids make everything more fun, even the garbage holidays (looking at you, too, New Year’s Eve).

Enter our proven—and by proven, we do mean the unsubstantiated musings of a couple of ladies on the internet—guide to actually enjoying Halloween with kids.

Rule #1: Lower your expectations.

This is the core principle that underlies all of parenting: keep your expectations modest. Your kids are tiny humans with very little life experience. Expect the meltdowns. Be prepared to make a quick exit if needed. Keep your adventures short, and enjoy bursts of magic without expecting hours of good attitudes.

Rule #2: Don’t overthink kid costumes.

If wielding a glue gun gives you life, mama, more power to you. But if homemade costumes just sound like work to you, take the pressure off. Buy something cute, soft, and ready to roll out of the package from Target, Carter’s, or Amazon. Ask your kids what they want to be, do a quick google search, and just buy the ding-dang costume. (Pro tip: leave the tags on or buy a couple of options if you have indecisive kiddos. Most major retailers have generous return policies!) My last suggestion on the topic is to consider a costume you can easily tweak if the weather throws you an unkind curveball—i.e. Order some coordinating leggings, tights, or long johns to throw underneath.

Rule #3: Skip adult costumes, if you want.

At least 60% of my dislike of this holiday is tied to the pressure around dressing up. Something funny, but also cute… not too sexy, but not too dorky either… something that doesn’t cost $120 and requires a visit to a dark and claustrophobic store… it’s just too much.

Here’s the good news: if you have cute kids in costume, you are off the hook to also dress up. (In other words: nobody cares what you look like. Sorry, it’s true.) If it doesn’t sound fun this year, just skip it!

Rule #4: Pack sustenance for kids… and parents.

My kids are always too excited for trick-or-treating to eat much dinner, but empty bellies, big excitement, and lots of sugar are a perfect recipe for a meltdown of epic proportions. Bring along string cheese, trail mix, or yogurt pouches for trick-or-treating to try to stave off a blood sugar crisis. (Note: this probably won’t work. But it will make you feel better that you tried.)

As for you, mama, trick or treating should be fun for the parents, too. As in—that had better not be water in your Yeti. Throw a cooler in your wagon or refills in the bottom of your stroller. And if you’re the one staying behind to pass out candy, consider having something handy to top off parents as well, if that’s the vibe in your neighborhood.

Rule #5: The Parent Tax is very real.

I hereby give you permission to raid your children’s candy bags after trick-or-treating. From an actual practical standpoint, it’s a good idea to sort through their haul and remove any choking hazards or items that are otherwise age-inappropriate for safety. This is also your opportunity to help yourself to your rightfully earned share of the spoils in exchange for taking them out for a magical outing in which they collected candy from strangers. How you communicate this to your kids is up to you—I will not be taking questions on whether my four-year-old still thinks she’s “allergic” to Sour Patch Kids.

Rule #6: Be prepared for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

This year, the calendar sucks, and Halloween is on a Monday. Don’t shoot the messenger, but your kids are going to ask you if it’s time to dress up at least every 8 minutes. Get ahead of these requests by having a few activities up your sleeve.

My suggestions: pumpkin painting or stickering, printable Halloween coloring pages, a spooky orange bath… or a Boo Basket! If only someone had curated a delightful assortment of high-quality, age-appropriate toys—oh wait! Order your done-for-you Boo Baskets now, and 8:30am-on-Saturday-October-29-you will be thanking today-you with gusto.

Rule #7: You make the rules.

Here is the saving grace of Halloween: it’s not what I call a “mother-in-law holiday.” The rules, expectations, and pressures of the holiday are things we put upon ourselves, rather than needing to coordinate with other family members, as in the case of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So if something doesn’t sound fun? Just skip it. You don’t have to carve pumpkins. You don’t even have to buy pumpkins. Just buy a bag of halfway decent candy (yes, Julie Homen, this means something other than almond joys 🤮), throw it in a bowl you don’t care that much about on your front porch, and call it a year.