When I look at my calendar and see that we are headed straight into mid-December, I am not filled with the warm, fuzzy feelings of hopeful anticipation as every holiday Hallmark movie would suggest. Instead, my mind starts racing and I go straight into full-blown panic.
As a mother, the holiday season brings an enormous amount of pressure. It easily leads to us moms overextending ourselves to please everyone but ourselves. Trying to get together with family, hosting holiday parties, attending holiday parties, sending out Christmas cards, buying presents…you’re so busy trying to make joy for everyone else, it’s easy to forget to be present.
And on top of it all, you can’t stop hearing that incessant little mom-guilt “voice” telling you to make it super magical and extra special for your kiddos! You may try to go easy on yourself, but those magical moments when your kids are young and experiencing holidays for the first time are fleeting, and times that you will never get back.
So with that in mind, I would like to share a few encouraging reminders and helpful tips, with the hope that another stressed out mom would read and feel empowered to take a deep breath, shut down that racing mind, and take in the joy of the holiday season that everyone is talking about.
THE POWER OF PRIORITIZING
When I read a lot of mom advice articles, time management is a hot topic of discussion. Often times what I pick up from these articles is “well if you just manage your time better, your life will be easier.” I quickly then go into shame mode thinking it’s my fault that my life seems hard, because I must be bad at time management.
The heart of these articles is in the right place. Time management can be a huge saver of time spent and mental energy. But the fact of the matter is that raising kids, no matter the circumstance, is a tough gig - and that’s OK. I’m not here to tell you to reconsider how well you manage your time, but empower you to take time for yourself to reflect and think critically about what’s really important to you.
This kind of reflection is especially important during a busy season, like the holidays. Get yourself in a quiet place for a few minutes and think about what’s really important to you and your family this holiday season. Maybe write these down. Do you have traditions that your family does every year, or do you want to start making some? What are a couple of seasonal experiences that you know you and your kids will love? Why are these things important to you? After you have your list of things that mean a lot to you, think about when they occur and see how your calendar looks.
Now here comes the not-so-easy part: start looking into the rest of the stuff on your plate that is stressing you out. Think about why you feel like you HAVE to get these things done. Imagine yourself not doing these things and see how that scenario plays out and makes you feel in your head. Will everything be okay if you don’t do that thing?
Now we really have to dig deep. Think about the heart of why these things are on your plate. So you want to volunteer to bake at your work party, but you have a big deadline. Is it because you don’t want to seem like someone who doesn’t contribute? Or is it because you really feel like your colleagues will be immensely impacted by your killer cookie recipe? After you come to terms with the things on your plate that aren’t so important, you now get to say the dirty word that many moms are so afraid of.
IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO
I struggle with a guilty conscience and feeling the need to please the people around me before myself, so “no” was a word that stayed out of my vocabulary for a big portion of my life. If there is one thing that my young adult life has taught me is that no is a good word, and a healthy word. No is essential to setting up boundaries.
Prentice Hemphill once said, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously,” and it is so true. You can’t love others if you deplete yourself.
We’ve all been guilty of saying yes too much. Last year for Christmas, I was MORE than guilty. With in-laws in Southern Maine and parents in Western Massachusetts, my husband and I thought we would compromise for the holidays. We decided to go visit my parents up until Christmas Eve, then drive up to Maine right after so both families could see our son for a part of the holiday.
My son had always struggled with sleeping in a place other than his room. Not surprisingly, he did not sleep at all the evening of Christmas Eve. Come Christmas morning, he was falling asleep while we were opening presents. Then that evening, my husband came down with the stomach flu. It was absolutely clear that we had over-extended ourselves. And worst of all, the people that were most important to me (my husband and son), were not enjoying the holiday. It was a hard lesson to realize that my immediate family was most important to me. From then on, we always put our needs first, even if it meant disappointing other people we care about.
More than likely the people you end up saying no to this Holiday season may be disappointed, but they will understand. If they love you they wouldn’t want you to beat yourself up or spread yourself too thin. Putting you and your family’s needs first is never something to feel ashamed of.
So when that mom guilt creeps in, call it out and tell it that it is full of fabrications and half-truths. Take time to recognize it before you let it seep in and fester. Breathe it in and breathe it out, and correct it with truths. “It will be okay if I don’t do this.” Then let it all go.
QUALITY IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN QUANTITY
Think about it this way: when applying for jobs, if you pick a couple of jobs that you actually think you’ll enjoy doing and put a lot of TLC into the applications, you’re more likely to be called in for an interview. Same thing is true with gift giving.
When I was a kid I was always excited to open presents, but usually there were only a few that I was really anticipating. I would play with my favorites for a long time after, but the other ones would get tossed to the side and eventually put in storage. Think Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”: his one Christmas wish was to own a BB gun. And BOY did he play with that BB gun.
It’s also so easy to feel pressure to make your tree look “full”, but that full tree will only look good for the small time period. So instead of hitting the stores on Black Friday and walking around aimlessly, take time to consider that one special thing that each of your loved ones would really LOVE this holiday season, and put your time there. Don’t put your focus in getting a lot of presents. On the flip side, less presents to open means more quality time as a family. And if you really feel like you want your tree to look full, you can always wrap some empty boxes. I’m serious.
Lastly, but most importantly, make sure you take the time to really be present during this holiday season, however that may look for you. Stop your baking for a few minutes, turn off your racing mind and dance to that Christmas tune with your kids. Go outside and take a few moments to soak in the beauty of the first snow of the season. Look around and enjoy the coziness that Christmas lights bring and marvel at the hard work you put in to making your home look like a holiday dream. When your kids wake you up at the crack of dawn with excited smiles on their faces about to experience the magic of Christmas, grab that cup of coffee, and receive their joy. Park yourself on that couch Christmas morning in your jammies, get that caffeine in, grab your video camera, and really take in another holiday season coming to a close in the most beautiful way.
After all, the best Christmas present you can give to your family this holiday season, is actually being present.
Are you really feeling the strain of the holidays? Thousands of moms going through the same thing are on SocialMama to help talk you through it. Download in the App Store and start venting today!
About the Contributor:
Brianna Hardy lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and her 2 year-old son. She is a Research Programmer for The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice where she is passionate about improving the healthcare system for everyone. She loves reflecting and learning new ways of juggling the delicate balance between work and motherhood.