Mom Guilt - Holiday Edition

Well, the holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas parties and planning are in full swing. How are you feeling as you look at your December?

I got a message from a good friend last week that said this, “I’m thinking about Christmas, and everyone in my family LOVES Christmas. And it’s not that I don’t love Christmas, it’s just that as the mom I’m in charge of everything – the decorating, the gift-buying, the events – it’s like I’m the one responsible for creating all of the wonderful Christmas memories that everyone wants to have during their holiday break. And that creates pressure for me – it’s a little stressful! And I wish it wasn’t…”

I’ve written about “Mom Guilt” before, but I think there’s a special brand of it that pops up during the holiday season. All the Christmas movies, family nostalgia, commercials and social media create this pressure to produce AMAZING holiday experiences for our kids – ones that they will treasure forever and traditions they will pass on from generation to generation.

I have spent so many Decembers and holidays sick. It’s cold and flu season! And as someone with immune issues, it tends to be a bad time. Brett and I have had the conversation- “What is the minimum we can do to get through the holidays?” so many times! I remember one December I was so sick with the flu and secondary infections. I’m sitting there scrolling through Facebook, seeing other moms do things like “a special surprise for the kids every day in December” or “making care packages with my kids for the homeless to deliver on Christmas day” or just all the normal activities like shopping, wrapping, and baking cookies. And this feeling of guilt overwhelmed me. I felt like my kids were the only ones who weren’t going to have a magical Christmas, and all because I was not well enough, or strong enough, to make it happen for them.

And instead of tackling the problem at its core, I would get into a loop that got worse every year. “Since I didn’t do the amazing Christmas things last year, this year we MUST do X, Y AND Z.” Then when I couldn’t do them that year either, I would feel even worse. I have had multiple major breakdowns about my holiday failings as a mom.

But here’s the truth. The most important thing about holiday events is simply being together. And sometimes we say that. But do we really believe it? Do we believe that if we spend the week of Christmas with a simple gift or two, normal meals, and loving togetherness it will be enough? I hope I am getting there.

And as we work toward that, here are my tips for a less stressful holiday season.

1)      Create realistic expectations. The most important place to do this is probably in your mind and heart. I had to accept that I was not going to be the mom who did something special for every day of December or baked four kinds of holiday cookies. Some years, about December 10, I have to say, “Here is the reality. I am sick and likely to stay that way most of the month. I cannot volunteer for my child’s Christmas party. I cannot host a holiday event. We will not be attending any festive community gatherings. We will get through every day with love and grace. I will buy simple gifts on the internet and wrap them slowly over two weeks. We will put up the Christmas tree when I’m having a good day, and maybe we will ask a family member to help. I will tell my family I need to bring food to Christmas events I can pick up at the store. And our family time may mostly consist of Christmas movies with hot chocolate and popcorn.”  Now, I can say that to myself on December 10, but it took me many years to be at peace with it. That it’s really ok for Christmas to be that simple. That my kids are not deprived or mistreated because they are not getting their share of holiday magic.

2)      Communicate those expectations to your family or anyone else in your life that’s involved in the Christmas season. Write a note to your child’s teacher. Send an email to people at your church. Work it out with your spouse. And then tell your kids what to expect. And here’s the amazing thing- what you do as a family becomes what your kids WANT to do. What I saw as a fallback plan of movies and popcorn – now my boys are mad if we want to do something other than movies and popcorn! It’s our Christmas tradition!

3)      Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone. You may need to say to your spouse, “If it’s important for X to happen this Christmas, I will need you to contribute in this way.” And then the two of you can decide if it’s worth it. As your kids get older, give them ownership of holiday plans and efforts. As you discuss your plans for the holidays, if they want Y to happen, let them do some grunt work. Or partner with other family and friends. There is probably someone else in your community who would also like her kids to have Z experience, but doesn’t have the energy to do it all herself.

Basically, all of this takes planning, forethought and wrestling with reality. Expectations are powerful things – and during the holidays we have to deal with our own AND other people’s expectations. My goal now is to not let all of those expectations become a raging steam engine that crashes in my heart on January 1st in guilt and regret.

So let’s take a step back, try to block out the noise of culture and social media, and just breathe in what we want the holidays to mean for us. What is it for you? Time with family? Celebration with church? Gifts of love?

May God bless us all as we walk forward in this season. I can’t wait to hear how you’re doing it!