A Mom's Guide to Staying Sane Over the Holidays

Holiday survival 101

 A Mom's Guide to Staying Sane Over the Holidays.

The holidays are a lot of fun but can often add a lot of stress to life, even without the spirited family members you only see once a year. (Of course I don’t mean YOU, sister!!)

The stress is especially felt by moms because it’s basically our sole responsibility to create magical and momentous holiday memories that our children will remember for the rest of their lives. No pressure or anything but, don’t effing blow it. Faaaaaack!

Ok. Take a breath. You can do this! It turns out that it’s not that difficult to actually accomplish these said "monumental memories” and it actually doesn’t require a Pinterest degree, a trip to Michaels & Hobby Lobby (although those are usually pretty fun anyway), endless baking and decorating, insane amounts of gifts, biting your tongue at holiday dinners, etc..

Here are seven tips to keeping your sanity over the next seven weeks. Cheers!

1. You are in charge of you.

Repeat after me: I get to choose what we get to do over the holidays.

Say it again: I CHOOSE what we do!

If you hate turkey, don’t serve it on Thanksgiving. If you want to spend a whole day in your jammies with your kids watching movies, skip the party. If Christmas cookies aren’t your jam, make pizzas together (or hell, just order one).

Think about the fondest memories you have in life. What are the things that you remember the most about the holidays? It’s likely that your favorite moments were simple moments: Playing with cousins or siblings for hours. Wearing your pajamas all day and snacking on leftovers. Snuggling on the coach with your parents (who were also in their pajamas all day! Woah!). Driving around your neighborhood with hot chocolate in your thermos, looking at holiday lights.

Just as you would clean out the clutter in your closet, eliminate clutter from your calendar this holiday. If it doesn’t excite you, make you smile, give you peace, respect your family values, etc., JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but Aunt Edna in Milwaukee is going to be REALLY pissed if she doesn’t see the kids this Christmas. We can’t skip that.” If seeing Aunt Edna brings you joy and isn’t a stressor, but all means. But if seeing her requires you driving all three kids up for an hour long visit and that requires you to leave another event (that you and your family really want to be at) so you can do that, maybe you could skip it this year?

That’s not to say, never see Aunt Edna again. But maybe you make a point to plan to visit her BEFORE Christmas so you can actually spend more time with her and not feel rushed. Maybe you could set up Skype for her so you could “visit” more regularly without the drive. Aunt Edna will miss you at Christmas but she will love that she actually gets extra time to see you overall. And if she’s still mad, well, she’ll hopefully get over it. You did the best you could do.

The point is, can you figure out a way to manage the expectations while staying true to what is important to you and your family. You are in charge of your life and that includes the holidays.

2. Schedule fun first

If you don’t prioritize your life, somebody else will. If you want to have a fun holiday season, put it on the calendar! When are you going to drive around the neighborhood looking at lights with the kids? Are you baking cookies over a weekend? When is that going to be? Do you want to do a movie marathon? Block-off the time. Otherwise, you will wake up mid-December wanting to plan some fun family time only to find out that you don’t have a single free day in which to do it.

Plan the (fun) work then work the (fun) plan! And don’t forget to share your calendar with your significant other or family members. Make you and your family the priority this season and don’t let others dictate how you spend your time. (See #1 above).

 A Mom's Guide to Staying Sane Over the Holidays.

3. Plan for indulgence

I’ve said it before but it’s like Halloween officially kicks off “eat all the crap” season. I don’t work in a formal office setting and thank my lucky stars during this time. I would have the hardest time not indulging all day long!

In general, I think planning for indulgence is a great idea, but it’s especially true during the holidays when they could easily become a habit.

Take a look at your calendar and look at what’s ahead over the next few weeks. Are you attending holiday dinners with family? Office parties? Did you manage to snag that Aldi Wine Box Advent Calendar? (LUCKY!) Are you doing a cookie exchange?

Knowing what’s on the horizon, can you create a realistic plan for yourself. Is it realistic that you will attend your office party or a cookie exchange and not eat a single thing? Maybe. But if it’s not, come up with a realistic strategy so you can enjoy that experience without totally jumping off the goal train. Allow yourself to enjoy (and maybe even over-indulge a little) but plan for what the days leading up to and immediately after that indulgence will look like.

Maybe you go the party in the week having already eaten a full (healthy) meal so you indulge less and maybe just enjoy some sweet treats and cocktails. Maybe during the week leading up to the party, you eat clean and eliminate sugar. And, in the days following the party, do the same. Also, put that plan in your calendar!

Maybe you amp up your workouts a little bit (or at least don’t stop doing what you’re already doing!). You don’t have to join a gym but find a way to be active everyday. Take a walk during your lunch break, run around your neighborhood a few times a week, stream a workout video or find a free app for your phone. You could even do a few basic movements (squats, leg lifts, side bends, ab contractions, etc.) while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting to pick up kids from dance practice. Just do something. (See #1, again, about YOU being in control of YOU). And don’t forget to drink a little extra water during this season as well.

The (good AND bad) little choices you make every day add up. Even small things like skipping the whipped cream on a holiday coffee drink, parking farther away from the store, or eating before the party, can make a big impact by December 31.

 A Mom's Guide to Staying Sane Over the Holidays.

4. Keep it simple, Martha Stewart.

Buy it in a box, friend. I’m terrible at baking. Too much science and measuring and all the things. Also, my husband and I have zero self-control so I try to keep anything that’s warm and sweet and delicious from ever coming out of my oven or remaining in my house for too long. I swear that we will eat it all before it cools and gets put away.

But I think decorating cookies is fun and my kids love doing it. So I keep it simple. I buy a mix or the “slice and bake” at Target and let the kids bake away. The same goes for elaborate meals. There’s an amazing restaurant in my town (actually several!) that will cook an entire holiday dinner for you to take home and serve piping hot. All you have to do is pick it up, although some probably even deliver. Mind. Blown. I have a 22-month old baby plus two boys that roll around my house like puppies the second I step into the kitchen, no wonder it takes me a week to prepare a holiday meal. SKIP IT SISTER. Order out.

You could even make it a pot-luck. People LOVE bringing their "grandma’s-favorite-secret-special-must-have-on-thanksgiving-christmas-new-year” dish. Let them! (Just make sure they take it with them when they leave, you don’t want all that extra tupperware cluttering your house and good luck returning it to them before Easter).

This also applies to things you have to bring to a party. Hit up the deli at Whole Foods, snag a take-and-bake pizza from Costco, or use my super-secret-crowd-pleasing-two-minutes-to-make “cream cheese + pepper jelly” appetizer recipe. You get the point. It doesn’t all have to be homemade and Pinterest-worthy.

 A Mom's Guide to Staying Sane Over the Holidays.

5. Make lists.

List-makers are giving me a major eye roll right now. Duh, a list. Of course we have a list. But here are a few lists you might not have thought about that can help you survive the holidays:

  • A list of where you’re hiding presents. While “lost presents” sure do help you get a jump start on the next year’s shopping, it’s probably better to avoid losing them in the first place.

  • A list of people you’re buying gifts for and what you’re buying (include links if you’re shopping online). Helps you stick to a budget and actually think about each person BEFORE you hit the store. Otherwise it’s like going to the grocery store at 5pm without a list or plan for dinner. You wander aimlessly around and everybody ends up with ugly slippers from Kohl’s. Make a list!

  • A list of holiday parties where you will have to bring something (white elephant gift, bottle of wine, or an app?). Do you have to bake a dessert? Schedule that in your calendar a few days in advance. Or put it on your “to buy” list when you’re at the store the next time. This list also helps prevent you and your husband from showing up to an “ugly sweater party” that’s actually the following weekend. Not that I’ve ever done that.

  • A list of coupons and coupon codes that you may use and their expiration dates! It’s also a good idea to calendar those expiration dates in your phone or planner. I can’t tell you the number of times I went to buy the holiday cards online only to be a day or two past the “major sale” date. Sad face.

  • A list of your holiday decor. This is a list you should make after the holidays because it helps you take inventory of what you have and what you might want to buy next year (or on clearance in January). Maybe you need more artificial tress (I have seven, I’m obsessed) or new ornaments, etc.. If you don’t take inventory at the end of the season you’ll be guessing when you try to make purchases later.

I like to keep a notebook in my purse just for my lists. Some days they are for grocery lists, other days school reminders, and now, during the holidays, entire chapters devoted to holiday planning and preparation. Make the lists customized to you and your life and you’ll see how much they help you survive these holidays.

6. Give yourself a pep talk

For some, the holidays mean stressful and anxiety-inducing family gatherings. And sometimes, you just can’t say no to the “Aunt Ednas” because they are actually your mom or sister or father-in-law and it’s guaranteed that you’re seeing them at the family dinner.

In those cases, I think the best thing to do is to take some time a few days before the event to prepare yourself for the interaction. Can you role play scenarios with your spouse about how you’ll respond to topics or conversations you know might set that family member off? Can you meditate before hand to clear your mind and put yourself in a calmer and more peaceful state of mind? Can you create a game plan for that moment when you start to feel yourself getting upset or provoked? I find that a huge smile and saying “that’s a great point! Will you please excuse me while I …see if anyone in the kitchen needs help/refresh my glass of wine/use the restroom/getthefuckoutofhereasfastasIcan” is usually enough to deflate the situation, calm me down, and get me far enough away from the toxic conversation so I can collect myself.

Obviously, this doesn’t always work and can be exceptionally more difficult where there is trauma or deeper issues at play. But, if you can just remember that you can only control yourself and your own reaction in a situation, you may prevent the situation from ever coming up or be just better prepared for when it does.

If all else fails, pour yourself another glass of wine and go hang out with the kids in the playroom.

7. Find time for yourself.

Is this even a blog about self-care if I don’t tell you to find some time during this beautiful and special time to stop, breathe, and look around at all of the magic around you? All of the gifts and experiences and cookie and parties are for naught if these next seven weeks fly past in a total blur.

Look at the excitement on your kids’ faces when it snow for the first time. Breathe in that delicious aroma as you cook something special for your family. Hold your partners hand and snuggle up a little as you walk together. Sit by the fire at your house (or at Barnes & Noble if you need to get the hell out of your house) with some cocoa and a good book. Don’t stop doing the things you love.

It’s going to take a little effort and some planning but an incredible holiday season is within reach. Enjoy this special holiday time, mama friends. May peace and sanity be with you.