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Staying Sane Through the Chaos of the Holidays

by Hollee Schwartz Temple | November 13, 2012 | Work/Life Balance

staying sane through the holidays as a familyMy friend Gina recently confessed her secret desire to abandon her extended family and escape on vacation for the month of December. Gina is a world-class cook, and she spends weeks prepping for an onslaught of guests who have come to expect gourmet meals, a decked-out house and a smiling hostess.

For several years, Gina enjoyed the chaos and commotion, but for a variety of reasons, she’d really rather not put on the show in 2012. You probably know where this is going. How can Gina overcome the guilt to put her own priorities first this holiday season?

What works for Gina might not work for you, but let’s start by remembering that the way we act — the conduct we model — is the legacy we’re leaving to our children. As child development authority Joseph Chilton Pearce explained, “What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”

In that spirit, I encourage you to seize control of the chaotic holiday season, and if you feel you need it, I personally give you permission to take what you like and leave the rest behind. Here are my top five tips for maintaining sanity by putting your energy into the projects that you truly love this season — and for scrapping the ones you dread.

1. Silence the “Shoulds” in Your Head. The holidays bring up so much emotion, and we tend to scramble around accomplishing tasks that we think will result in happy memories. But if Mom doesn’t want to build a gingerbread house and Dad doesn’t enjoy brining the turkey, why should they? So many of us are motivated by the “shoulds” in our minds, but really, if we’re not projecting a happy, healthy demeanor, we’re probably not creating pleasant holiday memories anyway.

2. Schedule a “Me” Night During the Madness. As I’ve traveled the country talking about work/life balance, I’ve had more than one parent confess that a trip to the dentist’s office feels like a mini-vacation. To me, that isn’t enough self-care. To that end, I’m suggesting scheduling a bit of “me” time into your holiday season. (I’ve recently planned a Ladies’ Night for my girlfriends at a friend’s business; we can socialize, shop, or just take a break.) Whether it’s a bubble bath, a lunch with a friend, or an hour alone at the library, take time to recharge. Your family will love you for it.

3. Don’t Succumb to Holiday Card Pressure. Around this time of year, I often hear of friends scrambling to stage a photo shoot for the “perfect” holiday card. You really can opt out of this one. Confession: In the past seven years, I’ve managed to send out holiday cards a total of … one time. I still think I’m a good mom. I keep up family albums and post photos for the relatives to see at least once a week. I enjoy curating photos for our annual family photo books, but I hate the process of addressing envelopes and stocking up on stamps, so I don’t do holiday cards. So far, no one has “unfriended” me as a result. On the other hand, if holiday cards are your cup of tea, have at it!

4. Choose Your Priorities, and Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate. So many parents — moms in particular — feel the need to say yes to every request, and the “asks” can be plentiful this time of year. But if you don’t like stuffing holiday treat bags, leave that to someone who does. If you can’t make it to the 10 a.m. classroom party, ask a friend who can to take a photo or video of your child. I’m not good at crafts and I know it, so I’m happy to leave the holiday decorating to parents who enjoy that. I do my part to volunteer during other times of the year, so if I’m too busy focusing on my personal priorities during the holidays, I’m okay with that.

5. Get Real About Your Holiday Expectations. So many of us would be better off if we’d pledge to avoid television, social media and toss our decorating magazines — at least until the new year. I’m all for holiday traditions, but I’m never going to pore over “cute winter décor” designs. I’ll probably never craft a homemade wreath or create reindeer cupcakes with chocolate-covered pretzel ears, but we’ve made our own traditions. I’m always game for hosting a low-key dinner to show friends how we light the menorah. I’ve also hosted a Thanksgiving feast for 30, but I used plastic dinnerware! The point is that I get to choose my focus – and you can too!

What are you doing to make sure you enjoy the holidays this year?