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 and I am part of the #TalkEarly blogger program. All views and opinions are my own. Thanks to for always encouraging me to find responsible ways to de-stress--especially during this holiday season.


Full Spectrum Mama said...


Anonymous said...

jen, jen, jen, the answer to your Christmas problem is too simple for you to see. but wait, where does your mom live? close by, right, because you were “over there” baking cookies. doesn’t sound like you had to fly or roadtrip to grandma’s house. assuming that she lives near you and you see her pretty often… you’re golden. yer mama’s got you COVERED! your kids are growing up with visions of Christmas… EVERYTHING (except sheets) dancing in their heads. does it matter that the toilet paper is at grandma’s house and not yours? maybe they’ll just blend your houses together in their memories? you might need to help that process along a bit with some blatant lies. start working on rewriting history every chance you get, i.e.,
“that snowman jazz quartet? that was in OUR bathroom, not GRANDMA’S. c’mon you guys, give me a LITLLE credit, sheesh.”

and besides, the decorations that you can get up by 4:00 will stand out in your house. nuttin’s getting overshadowed in an expanse of whatever the heck that village was in your mom’s…bedroom, was it? additionally… you can try reframing your approach as tasteful subtlety. AND… I don’t bake either so in the event that we do manage to cut up a roll of tollhouse cookies and get them safely in and out of a pre-heated oven… our kids will be suitably impressed, possibly even slack-jawed in wonder! setting the bar low for women everywhere benefits us too!

if that approach doesn’t feel right then how ‘bout this… girl, the only way to win at keeping up with the jones’s is to quit playing the game. take your ball and go the fuck home. to compare is to DESPAIR! all that glitters is not gold. the key to having everything is knowing that you already do. you get the picture, right? need I go on? tell yourself all of those things until you believe them. cuz you’re right, the only way we can teach our kids to be grateful is to be grateful ourselves. damn!

Anonymous said...

my comment was too damn long, here's the rest of it:

if that all seems too much like a load of bullshit… make up your own stinkin’ traditions. ones that don’t require renting a storage space. my favorite… keeping the tree up for a REALLY long time. the Christmas marthas WON’T want to do this. they like to have the place whipped back into shape so they can have their post-holiday winter theme stuff out or whatever. we kept the tree until march one year. don’t tell our insurance company. besides, there were barely any needles left on the tree to catch fire anyway. never mind the pile on the floor. why did we do that? because one of my favorite things about this time of year is how it feels in here with the tree and the lights. my son turns them on first thing every morning and off last thing every night. we even have lawn ornaments inside this year. they were supposed to replace the outdoor polar bear and igloo that I reluctantly tossed into the dump during The Great Purge of Summer 2016. the lump in my throat TOLD ME that we weren’t ready, but I got all caught up in the “out with the old… out with the old” mindset that accompanied the departure of my ex of twenty years. anyway, the little spiral trees and the deer looked so pretty inside that they’re now permanently indoor d├ęcor.

I digress, back to my inordinate fondness for the evergreen that gave its life to help us combat our seasonal affective disorder. Apparently back in the day, people started bringing evergreens inside in honor of the winter solstice. I, for one, living across the street from a BIG ass hill, LOVE that today, December 21st, is the last time this year that my living room’s afternoon streams of sunlight will be promptly extinguished at 2:30! tomorrow… I don’t know exactly but later than 2damn30. it may be the beginning of winter but it’s the first step towards those it’s still light out at 9:00 summer nights.

now that’s a tradition that makes sense to me. so tonight, to celebrate the winter solstice, we’ll unwrap the carefully preserved yule log that’s been passed down in my family through three generations…. just kidding. we’ll celebrate, by keeping the tree until it’s just ridiculous, and today, when our sunlight goes out at 2:30, I’ll say something like, “See, 2:30!! The sun goes down at 2:30. Told ya. I don’t know how I survived all those years when you guys were little and 3:00 felt like “you have GOT to be freakin’ KIDDING me, HOW can it only be 3:00?” and a happy winter solstice to all of you too!

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