Even if you generally enjoy the holiday season, it comes with added pressures like social commitments, family obligations, more expenses, more housekeeping, all while trying to do the best for our children. Hello, mental load of motherhood!
>> LISTEN :: Mamas Make the Holidays Possible :: Momfessions Podcast <<
According to the American Psychological Association, it’s common. Amost 40 percent experience increased stress during the holidays. Maybe it’s a sign of the times? Maybe it’s TikTok’s fault?
Read on for three tips to make this holiday season more fulfilling and less mentally draining.
1. Adjust Expectations
When my kids were little, I felt pressured to maintain family traditions and create magical moments, all while my idealized vision of the season lead to stress and overwhelm.
Sometimes expectations to craft the perfect holiday experience come from family or the media, but often we impose them on ourselves. However, they aren’t a reflection of us as parents or hosts. It’s not our duty to meet everyone else’s expectations. Expectations are just anticipations! Evaluate the origins of your holiday traditions before the season begins with these questions:
- What were your favorite past holidays? Why?
- What holds the most significance for you during the holidays? What are your top priorities?
- What activities do you genuinely want to engage in, both big events and small moments?
A similar question transformed my holiday expectations a few years back: I asked my husband and kids what was the single most important Christmas activity for them.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the Nutcracker tickets, Santa photos, or personalized ornaments I spent hours orchestrating. They cherished a decorated tree (yes, just one tree!) and touring neighborhood lights in their pjs. It freed me to let things go (and save money!)
>> RELATED READ :: Why We Have a One-Gift Rule for the Holidays <<
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries during the holiday season is essential. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown defines healthy boundaries as simply our list of “what’s okay and not okay.” Without them, we risk spending our time, energy, and often money, at the expense of peace, joy, and connection.
Clarifying your limits also shifts responsibility for others’ reactions away from you. Identify your values and goals and what interferes, then make some rules to protect your peace. Here are some practical suggestions:
Time & Space
- Block time on the calendar for rest.
- Feel empowered to skip, go late, leave early, or drive yourself to gatherings.
- Book a hotel instead of staying at a relative’s, or offer to host guests for one-night-only stays.
- Set a gift-giving budget that won’t cause anxiety.
- Limit gift exchanges by drawing names, designating kids-only, group gifts, or opting out entirely.
- Consider the recipient’s love language. Why splurge on a gift when they’d prefer quality time instead?
>> RELATED READ :: The Five Love Languages for Kids: Showing Your Kids You Love Them in Ways They Understand <<
- Limit time with triggering people and settings. Decide now what’s off limits (e.g. no talking politics).
- Expect challenging moments and plan a pause like a walk or a favorite book or movie.
- Prioritize what keeps you at your best: exercise, sleep, limiting alcohol consumption, etc.
- Set boundaries on your children’s behalf. They don’t have to hug Uncle Al or don’t need to clean their plate before getting up.
- Say yes because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others.
- Choose not to send holiday cards (or any other tradition). And you don’t need five side dishes — the kids will be perfectly content with mac ‘n cheese.
- Ask for help if you always do all the cooking and prep. Go potluck and send a SignUp Genius. Or offer someone else the chance to host.
- Don’t enjoy making that homemade pie? Costco’s are delish! Or, order gourmet from Emporium Pies. Better yet, outsource big meals. Holiday-special dining or carry-out options are out there, such as Bread Winners, Local Yocal, and Market Street.
3. Communicate Boundaries
The best way to manage expectations and boundaries is to talk openly about them. Others may feel surprised or even hurt by your new boundaries (or need repeated reminders), but they will adjust. People are less likely to feel disappointed when they know what to expect, so discuss well in advance.
- Prep family early. Remember, you and your partner are on the same team. Each should call their respective family to communicate plans.
- Be realistic. If your kids ask for gifts outside your budget, discuss reasonable expectations with them.
- Practice. Build confidence to speak up in a calm polite manner by writing a script.
- Use “I” statements like “I loved organizing the annual party last year, but it was tiring. I want to lower my stress, so I’m requesting help this year.” And then direct them how to volunteer and include deadlines.
- Know which boundaries are non-negotiable to help you determine when flexibility is useful and when it’s conceding. Choose not to interact with people who violate your boundaries.
- And for all of us people-pleasers, it’s okay to just say no, no explanations needed.
>>RELATED READ :: Tis the Holiday Season for Gratitude and Giving <<
The Heart of the Season
Navigating relationships and priorities during each and every holiday can be challenging, but it’s better than the exhaustion and resentment that come from unrealistic expectations. So as we launch into the last few months of the year, shake the stress and lead with clarity and confidence. To cultivate a more peaceful, joy-filled season, what new boundary will you be embracing?