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How To Survive The Holidays As An Anxious, Imperfect Mom

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

There are people skipping around singing "This is the most wonderful time of year" and their hearts are full of pure joy with no mental rumination about budgets, if their children will ever eat vegetables, or how to host a family party in a tiny apartment that has been overrun with tiny humans. This is post is not for the blissed-out people who aren't ruminating. This post is for the moms who are literally just surviving the day-to-day. This post is for the moms who cringe at the thought of putting up a tree since their toddler is going to knock it over yet they also feel guilty if they don't put up a tree because they want their kids to have good holiday memories.

The Problem

Sometimes we want things that are impossible to have together at the same time. For example: We want a perfect Christmas tree but we also have a rowdy toddler or we want deep conversations with family during Thanksgiving dinner but we have a tantruming 4-year-old. Unfortunately, during the younger years, there are certain combinations that just don't mix. So does that mean we ditch the holidays altogether? Absolutely not! But it does mean we have to adapt our expectations and roll with what is actually possible.

Where most parents find themselves getting anxious is when they try to mix these incompatible things together because they want the "perfect" holiday experience for their kids. Despite the wishful thinking, many things don't mix and the parent then needs to scramble to either try to fix it or end up ruminating about how they failed. If we take a step back here, we can prevent this from happening by being mindfully aware of this process in the first place. We can make a different choice. Looking at the situation realistically, we can ask "what can I reasonably expect from my child during the holidays?" "Will having a Christmas tree be stressful?" "Is there a way to adapt the Christmas tree to make it less stress-inducing?" (eg having sturdy ornaments, buying a smaller tree, etc). We can make choices that prioritize our mental health and our family's wellbeing. Prioritizing our mental health might not look like a Hallmark card version of the holidays and that is ok!

Some Tips To Survive The Holidays

1. Take time for mindfulness

Mindfulness is the foundation for creating any lasting change. If we are not aware, we cannot fully capture what is happening. Taking time for mindfulness can look different for each and every person. It could be taking time to meditate, listen to a guided meditation, do grounding exercises, go on a mindful walk, or to journal. The point is to practice arriving into the present moment. Not tomorrow, not yesterday. Through the practice of mindfulness, we build up a capacity to notice the present moment even in times of stress and overwhelm. Mindfulness helps us see things more clearly.

Mindfulness also helps with creating space between stimulus and response. This means that when we are triggered or feel an emotional reaction to something, if we are mindful, we can notice this occurring and we can choose how we would like to react. The space between stimulus and response gives us choices instead of automatic knee-jerk reactions that may not lead us in the direction we want to go in. Mindfulness also gives us the ability to re-evaluate when a situation isn't working for us and/or if we need to change course.

2. Set realistic expectations

Let's be honest, there is how we want our lives to be like and how our life truly is. The more we accept how our life actually is, the less struggle we will have with trying to wrangle it into something it isn't. If we don't have enough money to buy a bunch of presents, that's the truth. No amount of credit card debt is going to erase the fact that we cannot afford to give large gifts this year. There may be some grief and sadness that we need to face about that fact and that's ok. Once we truly accept our lives for how they are, we can begin to work with what we have. If we can't afford gifts, we can focus on experiences with our children. We can take them to see Santa or attend free holiday events. We can make hot cocoa and make handmade decorations.

Setting realistic expectations means that we see our children for how they are, not how we wish them to be. Do our children do well at large holiday parties? Do they get overstimulated at outdoor holiday events? Do they want to sit on Santa's lap? Once we start to ask these questions and truly see our children for how they are, we can begin to make choices that are in tune with what feels good for them. We can also ask these questions of ourselves too. Do we get overstimulated at holiday parties? Do we feel ok at large outdoor holiday events? Does it stress us out to spend too much money on holiday gifts? The answers to these questions can help us adapt our holiday plans.

3. Embrace imperfection (and a little chaos)

Here is a mantra for you: "Nothing is perfect and that is ok, Nothing is perfect and that is ok, Nothing is perfect and that is ok." If your first thought is "yeah, sure but things can be optimized!" I understand you AND let's take a minute to acknowledge everything that is out of your control. Basically, 99% of life is happening all around you and you have very little control or influence over it. This is both terrifying and, at times, liberating. You didn't invent the holidays and your children will be influenced by millions of bits of information that society is throwing at them 24/7. You cannot control their full experience of this holiday. You do have some control over the plans you make and how you care for yourself and your family. Seeking perfection or a particular idea of how the holidays "should" go can add unnecessary stress. If we can ditch perfection and get back to basics then things might go smoother.

Some examples:

Perfection Basics

My children should Are my children fed,

be showered in gifts warm, and cozy?

My children need to Are my children

feel the holiday magic! enjoying themselves?

I need to host a holiday I'm focusing on my

party, it's a tradition! mental health so I'm

going to let someone else host.

4. Prioritize connection

At their most basic level, the holidays exist to get people together and celebrate during the coldest, darkest times of the year. At their very core, they are here to prevent loneliness and bring us together. This can be accomplished without spending a dime. When we truly get back to basics, we learn that what's most important is the connections we have with each other. It's how we show up for our friends and family. It's how we show our children we love them unconditionally. This is what truly matters. During every event, during every moment in the holiday season, check in with yourself and ask "Am I prioritizing connection with others? If not, how can I foster connection?"

5. Practice Self-Compassion

The holidays can be especially hard for moms because we feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. We are always wanting the best for our kids and the holidays seem to push us beyond our limits. We buy presents, go to parties, have large groups of friends, have decorations, prepare holiday food, go to large events, etc. It goes on and on. For those of us already struggling with daily life with the severe lack of support in the non-child friendly western culture that we all find ourselves in, this can feel like a lot. Or too much. And that's ok if it's too much. We can opt out. We can modify. We can go back to basics. Breathe, Mama. Notice all the work you are doing. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's ok to be imperfect. It's ok to prioritize your mental health.

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