By Katie Vines Craig
Ahhh the holidays. We spend so much mental energy focusing on and preparing for this time of year and it’s over in a flash. Many clients tell me they end the holiday season feeling let down, disappointed, and somewhat sad. I can relate. It seems that every year as the holiday season approaches, warm memories flood my mind, jingle-bell-filled commercials flood the airwaves, and my expectations begin to look less like reality and more like a Pottery Barn catalog. There I am, sitting in traffic, singing Bing Crosby songs, fantasizing about holiday parties with twinkling lights, sparkly dresses, warm glowing fires, and the perfect, frothy eggnog. I picture baking yummy things, watching Christmas movies, and leisurely strolling through the mall finding the perfect gifts for all my loved ones…all while feeling relaxed and having all the time in the world. Can you say unrealistic?
What really happens? Big family gatherings, if we can get them together, are rushed and stressed because people have a million other places to be. There are so many holiday parties to try to squeeze in that we rush through them feeling stressed out, and we never find the perfect sparkly dress after all. With work and kids and traffic, we never really get to enjoy holiday shopping. I end up on Amazon at the last minute searching for everything PRIME that I can find that someone might actually like or use. We get up on Christmas morning, the house is a mess, the breakfast casserole is overcooked, and there’s barely enough time to open presents and shower before we are supposed to be somewhere…or someone is going to get their feelings hurt. Sound familiar? I know it does!
It’s no wonder we sometimes feel let down after the holidays! Our expectations are too high, we don’t manage our time well, we try to do too much, we focus on things that don’t really matter, and we end up needing another week off of work just to recover. So what’s the solution?
Here are some suggestions…
Let go of the need to keep up with the Joneses.
“Christmas isn’t about the gifts.” How often do we hear this or say it ourselves? But more often than not, we are still beating ourselves up if we can’t afford to give something really nice. Parents are the worst culprits! We see pictures on Facebook of the mountains of toys that some kids are getting, and we berate ourselves for not “doing enough” for our own kids.
I work with a lot of kids and teens and the No. 1 thing I hear from them is, “I want more quality time with my parents.” Even the teenagers who act like they can’t stand you sit in my office and say they really wish their parents would try harder for more quality time with them. You might be reading this and thinking, “Not my kid. My kid can’t stand family time.” Just try it. Engage with your kids. Have them help cook a meal or bake Christmas goodies for family and friends. Go ride around and look at lights and sing carols. Make ornaments. Volunteer together. Some of these things might seem cheesy, but what your kids will remember most is that you made an effort . You will be creating memories together!
Let go of unrealistic expectations.
Like I alluded to before, we head into every holiday season with ridiculous ideas about this year. We can never do everything we want to do, and we focus so much on trying to make everything perfect that we don’t have time to sit and savor the precious moments with family. So here are some suggestions:
•Pick one or two special holiday events to try to attend and let the rest go. It is perfectly OK to tell people no. You simply can’t do it all.
• Instead of spending $5 apiece on Hallmark Christmas cards (which just get thrown away anyway), write a note that people are likely to keep. It truly is a gift in itself and it will mean so much.
•If money is tight or you simply don’t have time to scramble and find the perfect gifts for everyone, make them something. Baking muffins or cookies isn’t too expensive (and you can have the kids help out) or you can print photos of you and your loved ones to include with your handwritten Christmas note.
•Go ahead and tell yourself that things won’t be perfect and that’s not what matters anyway.
•Set aside some time for you and your partner. Plan a holiday date night to get some time away from the kids and family to recharge. Little things like that can make a big difference.
Let go of the need to please everyone.
During the holidays, the focus should be on spending time with those closest to us, meaning the people with whom we communicate and who are involved in our lives regularly. The truth is, it’s impossible to make everyone happy 100 percent of the time, so go ahead and tell yourself that. If you can’t buy everyone gifts or make it to every single party, don’t feel guilty. That’s life, and hopefully most people understand.
I always like to think of Christmas as a time of reflection and gratitude. If we all truly take time to stop and think about our blessings, it becomes quite difficult to focus on the trivial stressors of the holidays. Remind yourself to think about the big picture, what the holidays represent, and ask yourself what you can let go of this year. You might surprise yourself.