“Deck the halls with mommy’s tantrums! Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!” That could have been my theme song in previous years.
I never wanted to be one of those moms who had regrets about the holidays–or specifically, regrets about how she behaved during the holidays! However, with a to-do list a mile long, a perfectionism streak a mile wide, and unrealistic expectations a mile deep, I’ve gotten lost more than once in holiday overwhelm. And by overwhelm I mean I’ve been short-tempered with my kids, hard on myself, and excellent in being a martyr and trying to “do it all.”
Over the years, I’ve learned how to prevent this holiday overwhelm from stealing my joy, and you can, too. Just as you use your car’s GPS to help you get from one place to another, so can you use your “mom GPS” to help you reduce stress and enjoy the holidays.
The secret is to focus on what I call the three E’s: energy, expectations, and experiences. You only have so much energy to go around, so it’s important to direct it towards activities that really matter. When you do that, your expectations tend to be more realistic and positive, AND you tend to enjoy your experiences more.
How to Use G-P-S to go from FRAZZLED to Dazzled!
#1: G= Grounding
Imagine a tree, with its roots spiraling deep into the ground. Its secure base means that a storm may knock a few leaves or branches off, but the tree itself will remain steadfast.
Ground yourself in your secure base by taking five minutes in the morning, before anyone else is awake, and center yourself by breathing deeply, noting what you’re grateful for, and setting your intention for the day.
When you start your day focused on your appreciations and intentions your energy grows. If you find your mind wandering to your ever-growing to-do list, gently notice it and go right back to appreciating.
Engaging in family traditions is another way to get grounded. Every year, our family prints out a map of all the local houses decked out with holiday lights, heads to Starbucks for hot apple cider and hot chocolate, and enjoys the sights.
This tradition gives our family a sense of identity of the shared memories. It grounds us to the present moment by allowing us to “Oooohhhh” and “Ahhhhhh” together at something we all love: lights.
Before I learned how to “ground” myself, I thought the holidays were all about preparing. After all, there was shopping to do, goodies to bake, cards to send, and much more. However, I also discovered another powerful way to look at the holiday preparation process.
Since holidays are busy times, kids’ routines and schedules are often disrupted leading to their feeling overwhelmed and possibly expressing it in behaviors you find less than desirable! Overcome this by talking with them ahead of time about what to expect.
Going to Grandma’s for dinner and worried that your 5-year-old will be bored and overtired? Talk to them about it. Explain what will happen: “Dinner is normally at 6 at our house, but grandma likes to eat at 3 o’clock. Since there won’t be many kids there to play with, let’s talk about what you can do to entertain yourself” and what skills they will need to use. Then practice!
The more you explain to your child ahead of time what is going to happen, what you expect, and can troubleshoot any problems, the more you set yourself up for success. Another bonus? You’ll prevent your child’s meltdowns, thereby saving your energy to actually enjoy holiday!
Another way of preparing for the holidays and managing your energy is to delegate. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to cook, bake, shop, entertain and decorate all by yourself. In fact, you may even be depriving them of helping you!
Seriously. The more you involve your family in preparing for the holiday, the more they are invested in its outcome. The keys are to be clear ahead of time on what you expect and to make sure that your children know how to do what’s expected of them. If you draw up a list of what needs to be done, ask your family to contribute to the list and then delegate based on age and talent, everyone wins.
As a recovering perfectionist, this one is the hardest for me. I used to think that if I’m simplifying I’m leaving something super important out. What I discovered is that simplifying really means honing in on what is truly important to me and my family and letting the rest go.
One way to simplify is to look back at previous holidays that went well. What activities did you and your family enjoy? When were you at your most peaceful?
For example, if I look back over the years, I can clearly see that making and decorating sugar cookies with my girls has brought all of us much joy. We love to use our hands to be creative. However, making all of the traditional holiday treats of my childhood put me over the edge! So, sugar cookies stay and I’ll either buy those other treats or let them go!
Look to the past for clues of what to focus on now. Of course, there may come a time when my girls no longer want to make cookies with me. That’s okay – I can focus on another way to be creative together to build memories. The key is to be inspired by what’s worked well in the past while being flexible enough to make tweaks.
Another way to simplify is to jot down a list of values and inner qualities that you want to make sure you share with your children this holiday season. On my list are charity, kindness, patience, creativity, etc.
Since there’s never enough time to do everything we want to do, I sit down and think about which activities and traditions support the values and qualities on my list. Putting together a shoebox of essentials for needy kids meets the same needs for our family as serving in a soup kitchen. The question is: which one best fits into our lives right now?
This is a way to let go of (without guilt) any activities that stress you out. Once you’re clear on WHY you want to do the activity, you can then decide if it stays or goes. Think of simplifying as a gift you give yourself and your family because when you have fewer items to cross off on our to-do list, you end up able to really enjoy the ones you actually do.
As busy moms, our energy is one of our most important commodities. However, besides tempting us to eat tasty treats, the holidays can also tempt us to pile more and more onto our to-do lists. Resist!
By focusing on grounding, preparing and simplifying (our “Mom GPS”), we become more productive and intentional by doing less. Peace of mind is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter what the season!