Why Moms Might Secretly Dread the Holidays & 6 Ways to Bring Back the Joy

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A few weeks ago, I found the perfect Christmas gift for my husband — and it was on sale. He’s probably the hardest person I know to buy for, and he’s hard to surprise. I gave myself a mental high-five as I placed the online order. Done and done — hardest gift down, and before Thanksgiving!

Fast-forward to yesterday. The mail person brought us our packages, and my husband went out to get them. And there, in the original packaging (complete with pictures) was his Christmas gift.

He instantly knew what it was and that it was for him; he came up and gave me a big hug to thank me, but I was so busy being annoyed about the Christmas surprise fail that I couldn’t even enjoy his joy. And isn’t that the whole point of the holidays? Experiencing joy with loved ones?

So often, us moms work so hard to make the holidays magical that we forget to actually enjoy them. (Sometimes dads do this, too — if that’s you, read on!)

We keep track of the kids’ school performances and classroom celebrations and the two-dozen allergy-friendly cookies that need to make it to the class party.

We figure out holiday greeting cards and coordinating outfits for pictures and who sent cards late last season so we don’t forget to send them a card this year.

We buy and wrap what feels like a million presents.

We cook big, fancy dinners.

We host out-of-town guests and make sure that the house is presentable and that the guest bed has clean sheets.

We organize family activities and schedule all the traditions — whether it’s new Christmas jammies or special trips or family baking … or all of the above.

We decorate the house for multiple holidays in the space of two months.

We run to the store — night after night — after the kids are asleep.

And we do it all, year after year, because it makes our families happy—because seeing those smiles is priceless. But all too often, we also run ourselves ragged in the process! We find our patience growing thinner, our lists growing longer, and our world missing some serious joy. So this year, let’s all make a pact to stress less and bring the joy back. Check out these six tips for a more joyful, peaceful, and enjoyable holiday season.

1. Let it go.

Seriously. Channel your inner Elsa and let go of some of the tasks that are weighing you down. There are many ways to do this, and I’m not asking you to give up everything; just pick a few areas where you feel you can be flexible.

For example, consider cutting down on the gift buying by asking extended family to do a name draw or only buy gifts for the kiddos. And speaking of the kiddos, consider experience gifts, like a trip to the museum or a horseback riding lesson — less to wrap and more time to be together and enjoy! Many families also love the four gift plan: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.

Or maybe you order Thanksgiving dinner from one of your favorite grocers.

Or maybe you decide to skip the holiday traveling this year and visit family over the summer instead. We did this when I was pregnant with my second baby; we relished our last holiday season as a family of three and the beautiful simplicity of celebrating together in our own home.

Or maybe you buy pre-baked sugar cookies to decorate with the kids instead of baking from scratch.

Or maybe this year you take your best photo of the kids on your phone and use that for the holiday card instead of figuring out family pictures — or skip the card entirely and send Valentine’s Day cards when the holiday dust has settled a bit.

Or maybe you say no to some things. A close friend told me recently that she’s skipping her husband’s holiday party this year for the first time ever in the name of self-care.

Whatever shortcuts you decide to take, please take some. At least one. Okay? Promise?

2. Accept that not every moment will be movie perfect.

Your partner might accidentally find their Christmas present before Thanksgiving (ahem). You might not get the holiday cards out on time. You might get frustrated with your children or your partner. You might feel sad sometimes. The holidays can be emotionally challenging for so many reasons, and it’s not always fun, but it’s okay. Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel all of your feelings without judgment — even the uncomfortable ones. Lean in. Have a good cry, call a friend, or take a quiet walk by yourself.

I promise that whatever little (or big) things go wrong this holiday season, your kids will remember the time they spent with you; that’s what makes this all so magical.

3. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Ask your partner to take on some shopping. Have your children pick out and wrap presents for each other. Decorate the house together as a family. Host a potluck dinner instead of prepping the whole meal. Take people up on offers to help (and if people don’t offer, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!). We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time when my oldest was 4 months old; my husband, mom, mom-in-law, and sister-in-law cooked the whole meal. I got to sit down and chat with people and hang with the baby, and it was wonderful. 

4. Remember that you don’t have to do all the traditions.

I know it’s hard with Pinterest and Facebook reminding us of the many wonderful holiday traditions we didn’t even know existed. But really — you don’t have to do it all. Pick a few favorites — the ones you actually enjoy! — and make those amazing by doing them mindfully and truly being present. Sure, snap a few pictures. But then put down the phone, roll up your sleeves, and make some memories with your family.

5. Get things done in chunks over time.

Wrap a few presents each night. Prepare dishes ahead of time and freeze them. Decorate over a few weekends.

Identify the holiday task that stresses you out the most and figure out how to not let it sneak up on you. And if you do find yourself in a pinch? See above and delegate.

6. Build in self-care.

I’ll say this a million times until it sinks in (seriously, read my other blog posts because it’s kind of a theme): You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t give what isn’t there to give — if you’re pouring all of yourself into your holiday prep without replenishing your reserves, you’re going to burn out, and you won’t have anything left to give when it counts.

Make self-care a priority, and let the pieces fall where they may. So what if you don’t get the cookies baked because you went to yoga? Or you miss a holiday party because you need a night in with a good book? Or you take a hot bath instead of running to the store for the millionth time? It’s not a luxury to take care of you; it’s a necessitySchedule it if you have to, but make self-care happen!

Remember that through all of the holiday crazy, the true joy is in the moments spent with people you love (and that includes you!). Hopefully these tips help you find a little more calm in the chaos this year. And if you’re struggling more than usual this season, be kind to yourself. Maybe reach out to a therapist near you for support.

Dr. Hilary Mandzik is a Licensed Psychologist serving Cary, NC and the Triangle area. She provides support for parents through consultations and workshops, and she offers therapy for parents who are struggling in her Cary office and offers online consultations for parents throughout NC and VA. Click here or call 919–344–1296 to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if working together is a good fit for your family’s needs.