by Jessica Martin-Weber
The holidays are full of magic and wonder. The sights, the sounds, the flavors, the traditions, the giving, the special photos, the lights, the decorations, the memories.
All of it pretty much made possible by moms.
While everyone else revels in the specialness of the season, savoring their favorite cookies and special dishes, feeling warmed by the glow of festive decorations that transform the ordinary into the enchanted, celebrating the magical moments of memorable events that set the season apart, it is moms who make it all happen. From the annual holiday photos and seasonal greeting cards, the baked goods and treasured main dishes, the gift giving traditions and festive gatherings, to planning and decorating, budgeting and shopping, organizing and managing schedules. It’s magic for everyone else but moms have more work and bear the bulk of the emotional labor that goes into making that magic happen.
For many of us moms, the holidays are really anything but magic. Often, the season is just more stressful, overwhelming, and draining for those who are behind the magic in the first place.
I’ve found this to be true for myself as well. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, I don’t want feelings to be hurt and a sense of sadness to replace the wonder and above all, the connection of the season. I also want some of that wonder and connection myself.
And sometimes, what I really want is to actually not be so connected. To really get to rest.
It didn’t take long for me to refuse to be the sole magic maker for the season for my family, bearing the burden to make everything magically perfect. I worked a job that was high pressure and intense around the holidays, I made the magic happen for thousands as part of my work and I realized that to survive, I had to let some things go. Doing so was freeing but also felt like failure on my part. I stressed about what my children were missing out on since I didn’t make gingerbread houses from scratch for them to decorate or host a Christmas caroling sing-a-long event like my parents had every year. My holiday wish list every year contained one item: survive.
That wasn’t enough though, I wanted to move from surviving to thriving. Not just dragging myself through the holidays with resentment, desperate for a nap, but to actually enjoy the time with my family.
A friend mentioned the importance of self-care during the holidays and I scoffed. Who has the time? Besides, I was the kind of burnt out that a bubble bath, glass of wine, and manicure weren’t going to fix. I needed something far more impactful than a girls night out or an evening on my own (which, let’s just admit it, I’d use to shop or wrap gifts anyway).
It took about 3 years but I finally found myself enjoying the holidays again, seeing magic happen that I didn’t create. The process was more challenging than I expected but here’s what moved me from surviving to thriving during the holidays.
Set your own timetable.
If you love holiday decorations but are stressed by the process and timing, pick a timetable that works for you. Who cares if you’re decorating “too early,” it’s your life and your schedule. I used to be a staunch “Christmas after Thanksgiving” person but sometimes we just don’t have the time to make it happen in that time frame. Decorating early ends up being lower stress because there isn’t as much going on for our family leading up to Thanksgiving. Setting our own timetable lowers our stress and the more relaxed processes allows me to enjoy the magic a little more too and that goes for any cooking and baking, shopping and gifting, and planning.
Be like Elsa- Let it go!
I wrote out a list of all the activities I made happen during the holidays from family photos to setting up visits and calls with family to parties, baking, homemade gifts, Christmas light looking, shopping, etc. Then I circled the things that I really enjoyed and one for each of my children and partner. Next I crossed off the activities that stressed us all out. For any that gave me pause because someone else may be hurt if we no longer did the activity, I made a star by it to come back to later to troubleshoot with my family and the person that would be hurt. I let go of anything that didn’t bring me or my family joy and I was surprised by how much we could cut out and how much financial stress lifted by doing so.
Some of the items with stars by them didn’t come off our list but they were modified. Along with cutting back, we changed some of the how. Online shopping that I can do once the kids are in bed as I relax with a piece of leftover Thanksgiving pie takes a lot of the stress away while still honoring those traditions that mean a lot to us. Half-way homemade is a theme for us during the holidays too and store bought cookies are a lifesaver sometimes. As much as I enjoy cooking and crafting from scratch, shortcuts that mean I can be more present and enjoy the season more are worth it.
Will it be done just how you would do it? Probably not. But someone else will get the pride and sense of accomplishment of having done it themselves. If you have a partner, have a home date night and divide up the holiday responsibilities and then, trust them to do it. Get the kids involved too. This year, through fighting and two store runs to get more lights, my 9 and 11 year olds nailed the lighting of the tree and I’m pretty picky about I like the lights on our tree. They totally got it and the tree is stunning. I showed them how I do it, they received some coaching from daddy, and the rest was all on them. Our 8 foot tree positively shines but the real light came from their faces when I told them I loved it.
For something to feel magical we often think it has to be perfect but who defines perfect anyway? Be realistic about not only what you can do but what you should do as well as what your family can handle. Overscheduling a 3 year old can quickly turn a magical experience into the Nightmare Before Christmas. “Perfect” may change every year, that’s ok.
Step away from social media.
As wonderful and as connecting as social media can be, it can also quickly become a place that moves from inspiration to comparison that can drain and discourage you. It’s easy for the highlight reel that others and brands present to feel like everyone else is living a more enchanted, lower stress life than you. Instead, use that social media time to do something that actually restores you. Maybe that’s watching a Christmas movie with your family, taking a nap, getting some cleaning done that you’ve been avoiding (I always feel better if I make a substantial dent in Mt. Laundry), dealing with some stressful bills, or yes, even a bubble bath and a glass of wine and a manicure.
Make changes if it is headed your way. Less IS more. Our children, our families shouldn’t miss out on having a mom that is able to connect and enjoy the moment with them simply because she’s burn out trying to make the already magical season more enchanted. They want you more.
Schedule breaks. Time to chill.
Have more down time than go time on your schedule and protect it. For you and for the whole family. Some of our favorite traditions and memories are the least involved. Watching a Christmas movie, playing certain holiday music, drinking hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree, reading a Christmas story every day. Those get talked about more than visiting Santa, going shopping, having a fancy meal, seeing the Nutcracker, etc.
Protect your sleep.
A few late nights here and there aren’t a problem but consistently getting too little sleep wears down our emotional, mental, and physical health. Everything is bigger and more overwhelming when you’re tired. Our body’s defenses weakened and we’re more likely to get sick, making us even more burned out if we try to muscle our way through sickness.
Be sure you aren’t forgotten.
When I told my family that I was going to buy myself a gift for Christmas, they were shocked and asked why. Because I make sure everyone gets gifts but nobody makes sure I do. That conversation led an overhaul in how we do gifts and that year I wasn’t forgotten.
Finding ways to move from surviving to thriving this holiday season depends on each individual and requires self-care. Do what restores you and let the rest go and actually enjoy the magic of the season instead of being burnt out as the only one that makes it happen.