The holidays were difficult (but manageable) with one baby, but when my second baby was born, it became completely un-fun. I was over-committed, overworked, had too many guests and hadn’t learned to say no to things I didn’t enjoy. I was doing everything for everyone else, and I imploded.
Now that we no longer have the excuse of COVID to wriggle out of events and obligations we might not enjoy, we are reminded that these lessons and principles on staying sane remain true:
1. Just Say No.
“Can you host the neighborhood holiday party this year?”
Can’t do it. Sorry!
In our crazy culture of do-it-all, it’s easy to get swept up into all the things you think you should be doing. There’s an awful lot of the word “should.”
You see, “should” implies something you don’t already do, but you think you should do – for whatever reason. Whether it’s because everyone else does it, or because you think the kids won’t be the same if you don’t, or because society tells us this is what must be done.
I’m here to tell you that it’s all bullshit. Don’t should yourself into misery.
The things you should be doing are the things you enjoy: Elf on the Shelf not your thing? Great – don’t do it. Don’t have time to send cards this year? Skip ’em. Can’t volunteer at the preschool to do holiday crafts? Don’t. Can’t make homemade cookies for the teachers this year? Buy them at the store.
I’m serious, you guys. It’s your world, and your world is what you make of it. Just say no.
2. Draw Names
Do you have 9 nieces and nephews and umpteen cousins that still insist on exchanging gifts? You simply cannot buy meaningful gifts for a large number of people. Draw names. Seriously, just do it.
Drawing names makes gifting more meaningful and less wasteful. We used this name drawing site to help with the process — it was stupid simple.
Better yet… you could also propose to your extended family that you not exchange gifts anymore (gasp!). Because you know what most American kids don’t need? More stuff. When you have kids, stuff accumulates at an alarming rate. You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid and keep buying more stuff for people. Refer back to point #1 (just say no).
3. Visualize Your Commitments
Before you commit to something, visualize how it will play out.
Example: baking a few dozen homemade cookies for a neighborhood party might sound great on paper, but actually sit down and think through the logistics of this activity.
You’ll have to shop for ingredients, make the dough (visualize flour ALL OVER your kitchen… and kids… kids that are sticking their hands in the flour.) You then have to chill the dough. Later on, you’ll roll it out (more flour!) and cut shapes. You’ll have to do this fast enough so the dough doesn’t soften. Then you’ll decorate and bake the cookies. Then they have to cool for a couple of hours. Oh, and you’ll need tins — holiday-themed ones (did you remember to buy those?). And now you’ll have to clean the kitchen (again, I cannot underscore the flour. And the sprinkles, my god, the sprinkles. How did they get into my daughter’s hair and all over the couch??).
Trust me — I did this last weekend, and this is how it played out. It was fine, but the point is that it took several more hours than I anticipated, which made for a late Sunday night (oh and then I had to make dinner HA).
Anyway, you get the point. I should have left more time to do it OR just bought some freaking cookies at the store.
“But I love baking at the holidays!” — totally fine! All I’m saying is to leave more time for things that need it, and don’t overcommit. I find that visualizing the logistics of things helps me be a more competent decision-maker.
4. Pre-addressed Holiday Cards
Ok, so here’s the deal: I LOVE holiday cards. I really do. It’s probably my favorite part of the holidays. I use sticky-tak to hang them all around the mantle. I call it the “wall of love”.
But when it comes to sending out ours… it bites me in the butt every year. Even if I order them early! Writing out all those addresses, doing the stamps, licking all those envelopes. It takes so much time!
Hence, I’ve learned to order them pre-addressed — with both my return address and the recipient’s address. You can also go the distance and have your cards mailed for you (yes, it’s a little pricey). Most of the big companies will do this, like Shutterfly/Tinyprints and Minted. Also, it removes several days from the total time required to do cards. Perfect if you’re a last minute person like me!
5. Delegate Jobs to Guests
Do you have houseguests coming for the holidays? Listen up. Everyone needs a job in this world, so give it to them.
If everything falls on you, delegate! Do not be the martyr hostess. Remember, the holidays are a team effort. Everyone helps. Whether it’s wrapping, cooking, cleaning, planning, driving — ask your houseguests to help.
Be specific: I need you (husband) to clean the guest room and guest bath in preparation for your family. I need you (grandma) to make dinner on Tuesday night while I’m late at a meeting. I need you (sister) to plan the menu for Christmas Eve. I need you (competent teenaged niece) to wrap some gifts. Can you (grandpa) pick the kids up from school on Friday?
Don’t do everything yourself. You’ll go crazy!
Most guests like to help. If they can’t (or won’t) help, you should consider cutting their visits shorter. The last thing you need is extra mouths to feed when you’re working full time and taking care of young kids. Seriously.
6. See Friends and Family on Your Terms
Marissa: “When my babies were itty-bitty, we made the mistake of trying to see every single family member over the winter holiday (whhhhyyy????). Even though we weren’t exactly portable at that time (traveling with a massive diaper bag, lots of passies, enough snacks to fill a pantry, a triple stroller, and a pack ‘n play just in case… ), we thought we should be the ones to make all the rounds. After all, how could we dare deprive the family of spending time with our squishy, adorable, sweet little girls?
Well let’s just say at the end of the day, we were… exhausted. All of us. And not to mention crabby. At one stop, Twin A gave us a surprise holiday gift of a huge, messy blowout diaper, while at the next stop we ran out of Big Sister’s favorite snack (cue the tears). Instead of giving our families cherished time with our kids on the holiday, they were stuck with ornery, tantrum-ey tots and their super-stressed parents instead. NO FUN.
And yet, it was a great lesson learned. We no longer try to see (or even please) everyone during the holidays. We do what’s best for our immediate family first (i.e. not dragging the kids from place to place so we all lose our minds), and we switch off every other year spending the holidays with my and my husband’s family. This works much better for us. In the future, as our kiddos get older and we get our act together a bit more (I swear it’ll happen someday…), we hope to carve out more of our OWN holiday traditions as well.”
7. Leave Time for Spontaneous Fun
Marissa: “We put so much pressure on the holidays — we have this picture-perfect image of how absolutely everything should look and go (thanks for that, Hallmark Channel… and for your never-ending-but-oh-so-amazing Christmas movies). We spend so much time and energy focused on making everything “just so,” that it’s easy to become overly stressed and miss out on all of the fun (yes, I said FUN) of the holiday season.
Just so you understand, I’m a totally high-strung, type-A+++ super planner. I leave very little to chance and I don’t ‘do’ spontaneity… well.
All that said, back in 2007 I learned a significant lesson: Not everything has to be perfectly mapped out, or go exactly ‘just so’ to be amazing or make awesome memories.
Case in point: In 2007, my dad passed away suddenly during the holiday season. Needless to say, that year, the holidays didn’t go as planned. Instead of the joyful festivities we were all looking forward to, my family and I instead holed up together with our grief and tears.
But then something amazing happened: in the midst of all that grief, we decided to just ‘take a break’ and go sledding. I didn’t have the right clothing or outerwear or even winter boots (I’d flown home to Minnesota from NYC, where I was living at the time, with only a few fancier outfits for the funeral and such), and it wasn’t quite the normal (‘appropriate’) activity one would think to do after spending her morning writing her dad’s eulogy.
But we did it anyway. And we had the BEST afternoon. We laughed, sledded, had a huge snowball fight… and knew without a doubt that our dad was looking down on us with the biggest, proudest grin.
To this day, it’s one of my family’s most favorite memories. It was totally unplanned, super spontaneous, and we were all underprepared for it. But it was amazing — a truly bright light during a very difficult time.
As mentioned, it taught me a fantastic lesson, both during the holidays, and frankly, always: make sure to leave some blank space — totally unscheduled time — for spontaneous, off-the-cuff, in-the-moment events to occur. Because, just like my family’s sledding adventure, oftentimes that’s when the very best memories are made.”
And there you have it, friends: our lessons-learned-the-hard-way over the past few years.
What are your tips for staying sane at the holidays? Leave us a comment below.
Thanks! ~ Meg & Marissa