What presents will be under the tree? Do you buy everything your child desires? Which set of grandparents will you disappoint with the holiday visiting schedule? How will you get your children to behave when they’re up way, way, way past their bedtime – and not incur the rolled eyes and pursed lips from the relatives who obviously think you’re not doing your best as a mom?
There are heavy expectations resting on your shoulders.
And even if you have help, the responsibility for putting the happy into the holidays is most likely mostly yours.
But what if you’re already exhausted? Already stretched thin?
The expectations and responsibilities that fill your holiday season can take all the joy and fun out of it for you. Every autumn when my kids were little, I would dread what was coming: shopping, cooking, scheduling, baking, planning, managing, returning, wrapping, calming, scolding, reviewing, hedging, reality checking, standing in line, waiting in traffic, looking for parking…
I didn’t know how to manage myself or my time and so the holidays were a long string of obligations I didn’t enjoy. I couldn’t wait for January, and felt constantly guilty for not having a happy holiday season.
It’s different now. I figured out a plan that was a lot like fixing a string of holiday lights. Now the holiday season is a lot more sparkly for me – and my family, too.
I narrowed it all down to a three-step process:
1. Find the bad bulb (What’s dimming your happiness?)
The first step making any kind of change is to notice what is and isn't working. Pay attention to the thoughts that careen around inside your head. Are you telling yourself stories that are making the everyday moments even harder? What are the obligations that you truly dread? Making a list is always helpful. Start with a prompt like "The things I really don't want to do" and see what ends up on your list.
2. Replace what isn’t working (with new ideas, new self-coaching tools, or new choices to do nothing)
What showed up on your list? Can you brainstorm ideas on how you can drop what you truly don’t want to do? Or, can you make what you don’t want to do better somehow, like going shopping with a friend?
One of my girlfriends is overwhelmed with circumstances in her large extended family, so she’s dropping the drama and celebrating the holidays in Mexico with just her spouse and children. A coaching client and her partner decided to shorten their holiday time with his parents to only three days instead of a whole week, spending the rest of their time on a ski trip with their kids. I’m working on ways to simplify gift-giving with my family which I hope will ease my stress significantly this season.
Look at your "Don't Want to Do” list and see what you can do with dreaded tasks and obligations and either ditch the don’t want to’s or do something to make them better.
3. Shine, shine, shine
Once you’ve replaced what’s dimming your happiness, give yourself permission to enjoy the bits and pieces of the holidays you love: lighting the candles, the quiet of Christmas morning before everyone wakes up, the sweet smell of your home once the tree is up and decorated, your kids' sticky fingers and faces as they decorate holiday cookies. (Mom tip: give each kid a sheet pan with raised sides to contain the cookie decorating mess.)
Shine the light on what’s dimming your happiness and make your holiday season sparkle.