It happens every year. The sweet mother of two young children sat in my office, slouched over, and shared how she dreads December. “I take on too much,” she sighed. Then she gets overloaded, becomes irritable with her kids and ends up hating the stress of December. All that effort for the sake of her family having good holiday memories and she ends up depleted and grumpy. The impossibly long list of thoughtful, creative things things she expects herself to do overwhelms her. We all know she’s not alone.
She walked out of her parent coaching session with three assignments:
I. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT
- Make a list of every single task you expect yourself to do in December. Does that mean one task is getting the tree, another is putting on the lights, and another is decorating it? Yup.
- Put them in order by date due.
- Circle the ones you LOVE to do. These are ones that make you happy and have meaning.
- Circle the ones you HATE to do. The ones that make you grumpy when you are doing them.
- If you have a significant other, have them do the same thing on the same list.
- For the tasks on the “HATE” list, figure out a way to dump the item. Or at least read Assignment #2 for ways to survive them.
- For the ones in the middle, decide if there are ways to simplify or delegate. For example, I make hot fudge sauce for my neighbors, teachers and relatives. Some years, they were decorated with painstakingly fancy labels. Some years, all I could do was make the fudge and slap on a computer-printed label. But if it preserved a little of my sanity and left me a little more able to be sweet to my children, it was worth it. Simplifying can be wonderful.
II. SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
Many of us value holiday traditions and want our kids to grow up with good memories. But hear me when I tell you this: you don’t have to do every tradition every year in order for your kids to have great memories. My friend grew up with a memory of her mom doing a cookie exchange. She remembered that every year, she came home to a group of women in the kitchen who had baked and exchanged dozens and dozens of cookies. My friend took it upon herself to continue the tradition whether she felt like it or not. It wasn’t until her kids were teens when she friend learned that her mom had only done that a few times ever. Nowhere close to every year. She did it on the years that it suited.
So as you think about your traditions and how they stress you, what if you consider rotating them?
If it’s going to cause stress, what if you give yourself permission to pass on it for a year? You don’t have to dump it forever; you can decide year by year. Sometimes we have to pick: tradition or calm state of mind. A grumpy, stressed out mommy is generally NOT what our kids need, so why do we keep setting ourselves up to feel overwhelmed?
III. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX TO MAKE YOUR WORK FUN!
Have a mountain of gifts to wrap?
Signing Christmas cards or online shopping?
How about having a friend or family member over to bake while your kids play with theirs?
While it may well feel like Christmas has become this huge, commercialized machine of expectations, we do have a choice about how we choose to participate. You have a vote in this.
It’s ok to say NO to being overwhelmed so that you can YES to showing up for your kids and yourself.
Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT
©2016 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents
Head & Heart Parents is owned by Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Love and Logic Parenting Instructor. In addition to private therapy and parent consulting services, Kerry offers parenting classes and workshops in Denver and the surrounding areas for toddlers, elementary, and teenage children.