It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Expectations are rising, cookies are burning, gift lists are growing, and who is going to clean the toilet before company comes over?
Christmas is honestly my favorite time of the entire year. But as a busy, working mom with plenty to do, I’m faced with a choice: do I give in to the stress of unrealistic expectations or do I let myself kick back and enjoy the beauty of the season?
Here are 7 quick tips to lower stress and enjoy the holidays, no matter what they hold.
1. Remember the WHY of the Holiday Season
This seems so obvious, but it’s easy to get lost in the swirl of holiday chaos, events, and expectations. When you actually stop to take a breath and think about the real WHY behind the Christmas season, it brings everything back into focus.
God didn’t send Jesus to be born as a tiny infant so you could bake 10 dozen cookies and make an Instagram-worthy Christmas tree. And he DEFINITELY didn’t come for elf on the shelf (no offense, little guy).
He came to give you life. Abundant life. And Christmas is a glorious opportunity for us to tap into the most ridiculously amazing gift of all time: Jesus himself.
When we choose to put Jesus first this holiday season, the importance of literally EVERYTHING else quickly dims.
When the chaos begins to creep in, take a deep breath and focus your eyes on Jesus. Thank Him for the gift of his life. Release your anxiety to him and let him wash over you with peace that passes understanding.
2. Adjust Your Expectations
Most of the pressure we feel throughout the holidays all boils down to the expectations game. What we EXPECT should happen during the holidays becomes an unattainable goal that only sets us up for disappointment.
What’s worse is that we often incorporate everyone else’s expectations of us into our own already lengthy checklist. (Kids, spouse, parents, in-laws, friends, and the list goes on.)
But before you start thinking about what everyone else wants from you, think about your own expectations.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I expecting myself to get done this holiday season? Write it out in bullet points.
- Is this realistic based on my limited amount of time, energy, finances, etc.?
- Are my expectations rooted in the true meaning of Christmas? If not, what needs to change?
Once you get your own expectations in check, you can begin to put a realistic plan into place and manage what everyone else wants from you as well.
3. Identify Your Biggest Priorities for the Holidays
What is really most important to you? Hint: Your answer cannot be “Have a Perfect Christmas” or “Make Everyone Happy.”
When you stop to think about what matters most to you, then you can shift your energy & resources into those things. It will make saying “no” to good things a whole lot easier when you know the “best” things you’re going for.
If you could identify the 3 most important things this holiday season, what would they be?
- Stay connected to Jesus and bring him joy.
- Spend time with the people I love most in a relaxed way (husband, kids, parents, siblings, in-laws, close friends)
- Be a fun, happy mom & wife who is truly “present” in the moments we have, whether they are what I pictured or not.
Do you know what’s curiously missing from this list? Expensive presents, homemade baked goods, 15 Christmas parties, and a designer Christmas tree.
Because when you really think about what matters most to you, none of that stuff makes the list.
Give yourself the gift of simplicity. Here’s a free checklist of 7 Things to Automate Now so you can start focusing on what matters most to you.
4. Be Present in the Moments
I think one of the biggest dangers of the holiday season, for moms especially, is that we pour ourselves into making the experience great for everyone else and we get lost in the mix. Instead of kicking back and enjoying the moment, we can find ourselves tired, grumpy, anxious, and overworked.
Do you know what’s crazy?
The best gift we can give to our kids (and spouse) this holiday season is to simply be present and enjoy the moments. So if that means having your holiday dinner catered or skipping the office Christmas party or letting friends come over without cleaning your house, IT IS WORTH IT.
Even more than the WHAT of Christmas, our family will remember the overall FEEL of Christmas. The more we embrace the WHY of Christmas, the more peace our whole family will experience.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations and embracing the small, simple moments of joy….a spontaneous snowball fight, Christmas movies in PJ’s, decorating the tree (even if the kids hang the ornaments like drunken elves), and seeing the twinkle in your kids’ eyes as they experience the wonder of this special season….is the most important thing you can do.
5. Make a Plan
It’s easy to enter the holiday season thinking it’s going to be different this year: less crazy, less stressful, more fun.
But without a plan, we can become like haggard mother ships tossed in the wind of holiday chaos before we know it.
So take back your power and make a plan.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the most stressful part of the holidays to me? (Take a minute to write them out in bullet points – stick with 3 or fewer)
- What can I do in advance to make those things less stressful?
Creative Strategies for Common Holiday Stressors:
- Make a realistic budget and stick with it. Don’t waste your budget trying to get nice things for EVERYONE.
- Identify the people on your list that you most want to feel special (kids, spouse, parents, etc.) and focus your budget on them.
- Be creative with whatever budget you have left. If you don’t have enough to get a gift for everyone, consider writing a kind note to them expressing your love and appreciation. Think about making something in bulk that can work for a number of people.
- Talk to family & friends in advance and set expectations. (There’s a good chance they’re feeling stressed about buying for everyone too and may be all about a new idea!) Consider drawing names at a family gathering, doing a toy exchange with nieces/nephews/cousins instead of buying new, or all participating in an activity together instead. The worst that can happen is that they say no and you either adjust your budget or bow out of the gifts. As hard as this is, it’s not worth going into debt just to uphold tradition.
B. FAMILY DYNAMICS:
Your mental health is important! Also, the effect of toxic family dynamics on your spouse and children is important to consider. Nobody will advocate for yourself, your kids or your spouse like you can. Even though extended family relationships are valuable, it is your right and responsibility to take care of your immediate family first.
If certain family gatherings or potential toxic family dynamics are causing you stress, consider some options:
- Set firm boundaries. Your immediate family and your own well-being are the priorities. You do not need to go into debt or spiral into depression or subject your children to hurt or guilt for the sake of the holidays.
- Alternate holidays or years. Trying to juggle multiple families or divorced parents? Consider doing Thanksgiving with one and Christmas with the other or alternating years.
- Set a time frame for how long you will be there and stick with it.
- Identify an advocate to support you while you’re there. It could be a spouse, a cousin, a parent, etc. (Not a child though.) Talk about potential dynamics and conversations ahead of time and how you will support each other.
- Have a private conversation ahead of time with a certain family member and try to sort things out. This can mean attempting to repair a broken relationship or simply making your priorities & boundaries known. You may even consider saying: “It’s very important to me that you not make comments to my child about [Fill in the Blank]. It’s not good for them and we will leave the party if it happens.” As awkward as this may be, it speaks volumes to your children and spouse about how you value them and what is and is NOT okay.
- Prepare some tasteful responses. You know the types of things that family members may say. Think through how you can respond in a firm but gracious way and have those responses ready.
- Consider skipping it this year. There are situations that are toxic enough to warrant simply not attending. You can make other plans at the same time, consider going out of town, or simply drawing a boundary. You and your immediate family are worth protecting.
There are no rules about how you can or should do things. If all the cooking & baking is stressing you out, make a plan!
- Have it catered. No for real. We started doing this when my Grandma was in her late 80’s and it’s amazing! Imagine lounging around, playing games, reading books and hanging out on Thanksgiving instead of slaving over a hot stove for hours. Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, Costco, or a local caterer all have options for holiday dinners. And when you add up the cost of purchasing ingredients, plus your time and effort, it’s actually not that expensive and sometimes cheaper! You can even figure out the cost per person and have each family contribute accordingly. Or just consider it an investment in your well-being.
- Outsource the hardest or most time-consuming parts. What takes you the most time or do you despise the most? Turkey? Pies? Purchase just those or have them cooked for you and do the rest yourself. Some grocery stores will actually cook the turkey for you if you purchase it there, for a small fee. Find a great local shop that does homemade pies or a friend looking to earn some extra cash and order a few!
- Delegate it. Instead of trying to be a hero, go ahead and ask for help. Have everyone bring one or two things! If you know somebody isn’t great at cooking or doesn’t have the time to make something from scratch, ask them to bring drinks or to buy some local pies or even come over to help you set the table.
- Make it a party. If you have a bunch of cookies to bake or potatoes to peel, consider inviting a friend over and doing it together! You can crank up Michael Bublé’s, pour yourselves a drink and enjoy it!
6. Release the Need to Please
It is NOT…I repeat NOT your responsibility to make anyone else happy. Say it again. Not your kids, not your spouse, and certainly not your in-laws.
The more you focus on meeting other people’s expectations and making sure THEY are happy this holiday season, the less happy and relaxed you will be.
When you let go of the lie that you CAN and SHOULD control other people’s happiness, you will find a newfound sense of joy.
Oddly enough, others will follow your lead. When your kids and your spouse see you having fun and enjoying yourself, despite challenges or expectations, they will kick back and do the same.
So ditch the need to please this Christmas and say yes to the little moments of joy.
7. Embrace Childlike Wonder
Kids get it. The excitement on their faces when they see the lights on the tree or that first snowfall says it all.
Let yourself enter into the childlike wonder of the holidays. Stop to really look at those Christmas lights. Drink some hot cocoa with marshmallows in it. Snuggle up on the couch and read a book or shop for presents on Amazon.
When grief or depression or loneliness threaten to steal your joy, think of 5 things you’re thankful for.
Invite God’s presence to fill your home and awaken your heart to his love in a fresh way this holiday season. He is the ultimate source of joy and peace.
Like this post? You may also enjoy…
- 33 of the Best Experience Gifts for Kids & Families
- 6 Ideas to Engage Your Kids with a Jesus-Centered Christmas
- 7 Surprisingly Effective Productivity Tips for Busy Moms
P.S. Spread the love by Pinning this post, Sharing it on Facebook or emailing it to a friend who could use some encouragement. Thanks!
P.P.S. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more strategies and encouragement for shaping your family culture!