How I Stay Stress-Free During the Holidays
Growing up, my mom made Christmas perfect in every way. We had multiple trees decorated with their own themes, Christmas dishes that we ate every single meal on (including snacks), constant roaring fires, delicious smells wafting through the house from her endless baking, and Christmas music blaring from every speaker we owned. My mom made it looks easy. She took her Christmasing very seriously--and still does today. If you don't believe me, check out the video I made that showcases just the decorations in the guest bathroom.
As a child I took it for granted that everyone had a mom that could trim a tree, bake fudge, and wrap a billion gifts in an afternoon with a smile on her face. I thought all moms could do that. Looking back now I'm trying to see if my mom ever uttered cries for help. I don't think she did. I think she is a rare beast who really enjoys all of that stuff.
When I had kids of my own, I felt the immediate pressure to start holiday traditions, to make the season magical, to be ah-may-zing! Some of that pressure came from my upbringing, of course, but a lot of it came from other moms. "We only buy local" "We don't do Santa" "We do super duper over the topic magical Santa" "We whisk the kids away in the night and they wake up on Christmas morning in Sleeping Beauty's castle" "We buy everything on the kids' lists" "We only give hand made gifts" "We don't give gifts, we give experiences" and so on and so on. It was a little difficult to find my footing and figure out what I was going to do. I didn't have a lot of help from the Hubs because he'd been raised in a home where he couldn't remember ever having a tree and oatmeal and socks were considered fantastic gifts (although, now that I'm older, I wouldn't turn down some snarky socks, but keep the oatmeal).
And it wasn't just the traditions, it was all the STUFF that came with the holidays: decorating, humblebrag Christmas letters, moving the damn Elf, the family commitments, the social commitments, and what I like to call the Christmas Bucket List (you know: ice skating, see the Nutcracker, visit Santa, caroling, and all the other things you're supposed to do in 25 days to spread the fricking cheer).
I was more than a little overwhelmed. I realized that I was so busy trying to live up to everyone's expectations, I wasn't having any fun. I was crabby and exhausted and truthfully, I felt like shit, because I'm a half-asser, so I sucked at trying to make the holidays ah-may-zing and incredible.
It was the year that my kids were 5 and 7. My kids were right in the thick of Christmas. They were old enough to want high-end shit and young enough to think that Santa was the one footing the bill, the internet was just starting to explode with magical and fabulous ways for moms to out-do each other, and I'd had enough. I couldn't believe that 5 year olds could make the precious cookies and crafts I was being bombarded with on the daily. The cookies my kids made were inedible and the crafts were really just a puddle of glue with craft herpes (glitter) thrown in the middle. I was perturbed that everyone's gifts were wrapped (with each family member boasting his or hers own personal design) and under the tree by the tenth while the ones I'd managed to buy early were now missing because I couldn't remember where I'd hid them. I decided that I wasn't going to even try anymore. It was stressing me out too much. I decided to take Elsa's advice and "Let it go!"
I looked at the big things that were causing me grief and decided to cross them off my list or dumb them down to bite-size doable pieces:
1. Decorating. What was the point? Yes, I love a Christmas tree, but did I need three? Did I need to cover every surface of my home with greenery and tinsel? I cut back to one tree, four stockings, and all the decorations I could put out in an afternoon. If it wasn't up by 4 PM, it wasn't going to go up.
2. Baking. I do love baking, but I suck balls at it. Now I bake for fun and because it's tasty. I don't care if it looks like a hot mess, because no one else is going to see it except me and my family and it's a yummy hot mess.
3. Gift-buying. I used to think it was part of the fun to go to the mall and fight for parking spots and wait on long lines and listen to people argue about what coupon they can use on what while rapey Christmas music played over the loud speakers. Now I know the real magic of the season: Amazon. If I'm shopping for you and it's not on Amazon, don't bother putting it on your list because it's notgunhappen.
4. Crafting. I also love crafting, but my bar is so low now. I don't worry about my kids making incredible keepsakes that will stand the test of time AND look insanely beautiful on my tree. If we're having fun and hanging out, then I'm happy.
5. Christmas Bucket List. There are some things that we still do. Like we still go look at the Christmas lights, but we don't do it in matching PJs, while drinking hot cocoa, and eating candy canes, and singing Christmas carols. We might be in our PJs, but that's just because we were too lazy to get dressed that day.
6. Commitments. I have learned to say "No" to a lot of things. I don't need to attend every get-together. I am not the life of the party and it will probably be more fun without me.
7. Work. I am lucky that I have a job where I can work from home. This is a blessing and a curse, because there are days when I want to blow off work and go play in the snow with my kids and there are other days when I wish I could escape to an office. There were several years where I had hard deadlines over the holidays and that really stressed me out, because I didn't have any flexibility to be with my family. Now I make sure that my December work load is light so I can play more--or pretend I have to work. (Yes, putting selfies on Facebook is work!)
8. Teaching my kids compassion. This is the season of "Gimme, gimme, gimme!" when you're a kid. This is the one time each year where you can make a wish list of things and you've got a pretty good chance you're going to get a lot of it. My kids are lucky because we've been able to afford to buy them nice gifts and whatever they don't get from us, they've got grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles and cousins who make up the difference. It can be hard not to raise an entitled brat. I felt like I was always lecturing or yelling, "Be grateful!" I finally realized it was better to show than to tell. So now we figure out as a family where we'd like to give our time and money every year. The Hubs and I lean towards humanitarian projects, Gomer likes to help food-insecure families, and Adolpha takes care of the dogs. We always adopt kids at Christmas time and I spend as much on those kids as I do my own. Gomer and Adolpha help me pick the gifts and as they get older we're finding places where we can also volunteer our time as well as our money.
It's amazing what cutting back and giving back to our community does for all our stress levels. It helps us remember that this is a season of giving and of peace.
What are you doing this season to keep your sanity?
This post was sponsored by Responsiblity.org and I am part of the #TalkEarly blogger program. All views and opinions are my own. Thanks to Reponsibility.org for always encouraging me to find responsible ways to de-stress--especially during this holiday season.