I've recently noted a marked increase in the number of social media posts from stressed parents. Pictures of piles of still-to-be-wrapped toys, with panicked posts about whether or not the giant pile is 'giant enough!' Posts from parents wondering how they're going to get everything done (and paid for!) before the big day. Some parents are stressing about traveling to distant lands to be with their family for Christmas. There is no doubt that the months of November and December can be a very stressful time of the year. That's why this week, I am sharing a little anecdote about how my wise-beyond-her-years daughter helped me to stop stressing through the holiday season.
Every year — sometime between Thanksgiving and the first of December — I would ask my children to write out their ‘Christmas Wish List.’ Of course, many Christmas moons ago, those lists would have been mailed off to Santa at the North Pole (wink-wink)! But in more recent years, they became more-or-less a shopping guide for Mommy and G-Ma.
Several years ago, when I received my daughter’s list, it wasn’t exactly what I had expected. On that list, there were no toys, no electronic devices, none of the latest shoes or clothes, no bicycle, no puppy. It just read plain and simply, “Have the whole family spend the entire Christmas day together, in our jammies, playing board games, doing arts & crafts, watching movies, and eating yummy food!" When I asked her about it, her wise and soulful 12-year-old self explained that we provided everything she could need or want the other 364 days out of the year and that Christmas should be special. The funniest part about it is that her ‘special’ Christmas day ends up looking like a pretty average day in our life as a homeschool family — but for Daddy being at work! What she wanted was together time — all of us — as a family! It just goes to show (and it's nice to know) that no matter how much together time you give your children — and I was with mine 24/7/365 for 18 years — it can never be too much!
From that day forward, our Christmas Day celebrations have never quite looked the same. No longer do we exchange lots of material gifts rather we exchange the gift of time. Each family member contributes individual time, and we collectively share quality, family, together time. And yes, you might find a few boxes under the tree each year — those are gifts to the family (from Santa) and will always have particular relevance for Christmas Day. They are likely to be a new board game to try, or the arts & crafts materials to make a keepsake, or a family fave film on DVD to watch.
What I didn’t realize that year when Meggie gave me her last wish list was that she was giving me the greatest gift of all — by far. She was freeing me from a whirlwind of holiday stress that typically picked me up right before Thanksgiving and dumped me off, mid-January, into a holiday hangover. She taught me the valuable lesson that when we let go of the relatively insignificant things in life, it frees us to embrace the genuinely important stuff. Thanks to her lovely perspective on what the holidays should be all about, they are now much less stressful and far greater fun for our entire family.
We find that any holiday is the perfect day to stay in our jammies, playing board games, doing arts & crafts, watching movies, and eating yummy food! We no longer even do large meals that translate to hours of work in the kitchen 'pour moi!' Instead, I prepare finger foods and appetizers in the days leading up to the holiday, and everybody eats when they feel hungry. We’ve even been known to order Chinese take-out on Thanksgiving Day because truthfully, I can make a turkey dinner for my family any one of the other 364 days in the year — but we don’t always get the opportunity for pure, uninterrupted, quality together time!
I do admit that replacing a Thanksgiving Day feast with Chinese take-out is somewhat radically unconventional. And although you might not be quite ready to ‘go cold turkey’ (pun fully intended) on giving up all of your family holiday traditions, I am pretty sure you'll find a couple of my less extreme (totally doable) ways for reducing Mommy-stress through the holidays helpful:
#1. First things, first — remember that every little thing doesn’t have to be perfect or magical. Let go of being the neighborhood Martha Stewart. Stop looking at and trying to compare your life to perfectly staged IG accounts. You have to remember; those things are not real life for the majority of us!
#2. Make a ‘Holiday To Do List’ and write every little thing down. Seeing it on paper will do one of two things. It will help you to be more organized and less stressed when performing your tasks, or it will make you realize how crazy you were to think you could accomplish so much!
#3. It’s apparent because you are reading on, that you're ready to commit to reducing stress through the holidays. Good for you! What I'm about to reveal and that you have to do next is probably the hardest part. For it, you must become extremely practical and not let your emotions lead the way. Look at everything individual thing on that to-do list and ask yourself, "Is this truly important." And now for the worst of it — let go of it, if it's not.
#4. If you are the over-achiever, Type-A, Super-Mom (like I have been known to be) — I can pretty much guarantee that at this point your list is unmanageable and you're now faced with deciding what is truly important and of what things you're going to let go! (Tip: Christmas is only one day out of the year, there are 364 other days to make Great-Grandmother Sophie’s Chocolate Bundt Cake — just sayin’!)
#5. Now that you’ve pared your list down to a reasonable amount of things to get done — yeah, right! It’s time to add one thing — yes, you read that right ‘ADD.’ Make sure that you include some down time for yourself. Time to relax, re-group, and re-energize. This is crucial!
#6. Okay so now, imagine we are into December, and you’ve started ticking tasks off your to-do list. But suddenly, you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed all over again. Don't give up ship! Simply retreat and repeat step #4 and as tricky as it may be, drop more off the list. It may not even be a matter of entirely eradicating it from the holiday — perhaps the task could be delegated to another family member — have Aunt Rebecca-Sue make Great-Grandmother Sophie’s Chocolate Bundt Cake.
#7. Remember that children are especially vulnerable to stress through the holidays and will often take cues from you. Therefore, if you’re feeling stressed, they are more likely to feel stressed too. The issue is that their stress will manifest itself into behavioral problems, which will undoubtedly cause you more stress. (It’s a vicious cycle!) By reducing your stress, you’ll reduce their stress as well. However, David Fassler, MD in his article entitled, ‘10 Tips for Helping Your Child Cope with Holiday Stress,’ does suggest that certain situations for children during the holidays may require additional attention and some coping skills from you.
Replacing old traditions with new is not necessarily a bad thing; however, it can be tough to let go of those that are old and ingrained in the family, so make your choices carefully and start slowly. At times, I will admit I still experience twinges of guilt when we have no left-over turkey to get sick of after Thanksgiving or when we're the only family on the street who doesn't have a massive pile of recyclable cardboard and wrapping paper on their curb the day after Christmas. Admittedly, I don't mean to suggest that you have to go to the extreme and change the entire structure of your holidays (like we did); however, letting go of one or two holiday tasks can help you reduce holiday stress ten-fold. I recently ran across some great practical advice and modern ideas to help you ‘Let Go of Holiday Stress’ at Real Simple.
And remember, while it may seem difficult at the time, letting go of one thing always frees you up to embrace something new and perhaps something you'll find all the better.
Oh! And by the way, we'd be ever so grateful if you'd...