The days are quickly moving us towards the last few weeks of the year, and with it comes the equally beloved and dreaded winter holidays- ie: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When I was a little girl I remember reading my mother’s magazines and there were always articles about getting through the holidays stress free. I could never understand what those articles were talking about because as far as I was concerned, Christmas was the best holiday ever! Now that I am an adult I understand exactly what they meant.
Even though my family celebrated Christmas, we are actually Jewish by descent, however I am the only one in my family that identifies as such. This means I am lucky enough to celebrate all the Jewish holidays and Christmas, though we only celebrate Christmas at my other family members homes.
I have made a lot of mistakes when it comes to dealing with the winter holidays and the stress it involves. I have also been working hard on not making those same mistakes twice, as well as putting what I have learned that works into practice. When it comes to getting through the holidays without losing your mind, here is my best advice.
What Are Your Holiday Goals?
I am a very goal oriented person. Without goals I wouldn’t know what the purpose was of each day. So when it comes to the holidays I set between three and five goals and then I use those goals to keep me from becoming overwhelmed.
For example, my goals for the winter holidays are to be receptive to joy, create positive memories for my children, and to be able to let go of my work ethic for the week of Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Years so I can focus more on my family. When something comes along and I have to make a decision, I remember my three goals and if it doesn’t move me toward those goals then I pass. Once I have a framework to make decisions I can be better prepared for when I am finding myself stressed out.
Lower Your Expectations
For years I figured I could work at the same pace I did during any other month and do all the extra things one needs to do for the holidays.
I ended up getting completely frazzled and usually started resenting my husband and kids for “making” me do double duty. This would make me hate Christmas and the have tos because I had such high expectations. When things weren’t “perfect” I would fall apart and feel like all of my hard work was for nothing. Dramatic and foolish- something I am kind of known for.
Now I know I just can’t do it all.
But how do you let things go when they all seem like they have to get done?
First of all, ask for help. I have learned I have to sit my husband down and explain to him what is going on. I need to go over what is on my normal plate and then the extra holiday stuff that needs to be accomplished and then together we decide what he can take over. I have found he is much more pleasant when we discuss things before hand instead of me shouting at him as I am completely stressed out to “just do the dishes already!”.
The second place I turn for help is my children. I have found if I have a family meeting and explain how mommy needs help for a few weeks and then give them specific things they need to do, they are usually fairly receptive. Of course getting them to actually do those things is a whole other problem, but if I remind them of how they are really helping me out, I usually only get a good eye roll and some grumbles under their breath, which in my mind is a win!
My final suggestion is to get some temporary outside help. Obviously this means you will have to spend some money which in December can be very difficult. Budgets are tight, but if you happen to have some extra cash then I highly recommend getting a cleaning service or sending out your laundry just to help you over the hump.
When your workload as a homemaker doubles during the holidays, something has got to give. So why not be proactive about taking responsibilities off of your list and adding them to other’s lists before things get crazy?
You Don’t Have To Do It All
Look, we all want the Norman Rockwell meets Martha Stewart Christmas, but in reality we are probably more of a combination of The Simpsons and Everyone Loves Raymond. Even when you have family and hired help, you still can’t get it all done because what usually ends up happening is you up your expectations to coincide with all of your “new found” time.
Oh how easily we forget!
But guess what? You don’t have to do it all and even more importantly nobody is expecting you to!
Nobody can see the expectations in your head so when things aren’t as beautiful, or warm, or charming as you think they should be, nobody misses it. All they see is a twinkling Christmas tree, food on the table, and presents under the tree. Nobody is angry that your croquembouche is tilted to one side or that Uncle Matt got drunk and stormed out of the home. If anything those are the stories that in a few years become your favorite to tell over and over.
For example, the first year my husband and I were married, my mother gave me a really pretty silky nightgown which I opened in front of everyone. Under his breath my husband said, “that will look good on the floor!”. My brother overheard him and started laughing because he thought my husband was making a dirty joke, but in actuality he was saying that because I was a terrible housekeeper and was known for never bothering to put my clothing in my drawers or hanging them in the closet. The nightgown was going to actually end up on the ground! I was horrified but now, 13 years later we tell that story every Christmas when the kids open their pajamas on Christmas Eve.
Set Your Boundaries
You might be keenly aware I haven’t mentioned how to deal with all the family members who are vying for your attention. The reason is because this is by far the most difficult holiday issue and there is very little advice that works in the short term.
Strained family relations come after years of fighting and angst and there is really nothing I can say that will wipe out those feelings for a few days during the holidays. My only advice to you is to set your boundaries. You teach people how to treat you, so if someone is walking all over you or making you feel bad then you need to let them know you don’t like it and the consequences they will face if they don’t stop. Of course this is much easier said than done. This is when I go back to what my goals for the holiday are and put them to use.
A few years ago, when Ella was around 1, my mother wanted us to spend the night at her home on Christmas Eve so the kids could get the full holiday treatment of Santa Claus and Christmas morning. Her mother had recently died so even though I knew this was the worst idea ever because we were exhausted from Ella and her terrible sleeping habits, I went ahead with it. Ella ended up not being able to fall asleep in a strange crib and cried and cried and cried. My husband drove her home in the middle of the night and missed Christmas morning.
It was a total disaster.
I knew in my gut this was a bad idea but I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. What I ended up doing was creating a disappointing situation for everyone involved. Big mistake.
Having learned from this and other situations where I was people pleasing I have now realized that I need to take the lead when it comes to my immediate family and protect them from the needs of my extended family. That might end up hurting someone’s feelings or causing them disappointment, but in the long term they will get over it and it is my primary job to keep my family happy, not to make everyone BUT my family happy.
Take Time For Yourself
You know what? The holidays are for you to celebrate as well!
I think we, as women, forget that we are supposed to be enjoying the season, not just creating memories for our children. We need to support ourselves and remember what the holidays are all about!
As I mentioned earlier, I am not Christian, but I did some research on Advent, which is the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During this time those that celebrate it use it as a period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. (wiki) I thought it would be beneficial to use the spirit of Advent in our own lives, but instead of focusing on the religious aspect of the holiday we can use different traditions from throughout the world to spend a few minutes a day finding personal peace.
The holidays are the most difficult time to schedule time for oneself, so I put together 25 suggestions to inspire you on how you can take a moment and reflect on both recharging yourself and on what Christmas is really about- which is the rebirth and joy that comes from celebrating with family and friends.
By creating clear holiday goals, lowering your expectations, realizing you don’t have to do it all, and setting your boundaries, you can be sure to create a less stressful holiday that your whole family will enjoy.