Who isn’t busy all the time? But around the holidays we’re crazy busy. At least women are, and those lights in our lives we call children make the pace even more frantic.
Sure we make efforts to simplify and de-stress but for most of us the additional joy of holiday decorating, baking, cooking, shopping, wrapping, gifting, visiting, hosting, and merrymaking have to fit right into our regular (overburdened) schedules.
It’s not like we can make more time where there is none. Well, maybe we can. At least we can use our time differently. I confess to suffering from Crazy Busy Syndrome but I fight back with these tactics.
1. Renounce the How-Does-She-Do-It-All-Disease.
You know the symptoms. You add extra responsibilities to your already hyper-responsible list of tasks. You uphold traditions because your family enjoys them. You pay close attention to get just the right gifts. You worry about money more than usual while spending more than usual. On top of all this you try to keep the focus on intangibles like joy and togetherness. The most extreme cases of How-Does-She-Do-It-All-Disease manage to keep up with everything and still keep smiling. Or at least feign good cheer.
When the frenzy is over you often end up with an empty feeling. The warm tenderness and connection we hope to feel around the holidays often gets lost under the sheer weight of obligation.
The cure? Talk to your loved ones about what means the most to them, then slice away the rest. If that doesn’t work, slice anyway. If you feel guilty about it sit down and read a nice stack of picture books to your youngest child. No one really puts you in the Little Red Hen role for the holidays. Besides, that too-cheery tone you use doesn’t fool anyone.
2. Shun Those Voices.
They speak to you from TV shows, magazines, websites, blogs, store displays—in fact they’re hard to escape during the holidays. They seem genuine and alluring but their sole aim is to make you feel insufficient. These voices relentlessly tell you that you’re not enough. To compensate you must do more. Dress beautifully, make elaborate meals, buy lavish gifts (and wrap them with panache), lose 10 pounds by New Year’s Eve, capture every holiday memory in photos and videos, be a sexy surprise for your partner—oh, you know the list.
This is the only diet you need to go on. Don’t watch a single cooking show, don’t open one slick women’s magazine, truly it is best if you avoid stores as much as possible. You’ll have a lot more time plus you won’t have to reassemble what’s left of your self esteem.
3. Screw Tradition.
No, I don’t mean you should shun Grandma’s house. I do mean it’s possible to enjoy the season without so much of the heavy Gotta Do It Because We Always Do It weight hanging over you.
Some of my family’s most memorable holidays have actually been those that veered wildly from tradition. We won’t forget a holiday dinner at Becky’s house featuring walls still wet with paint, an oven on fire, and a dog getting sick everywhere. The zinger? She hosted the event to show visitors from Germany how we celebrate here in the U.S.
If you’ve always gone to the movie theater to see the newest holiday releases after a day of shopping, skip both and go to a play at your community theater. If you’ve accepted every holiday invitation despite the costs of babysitters, travel, and lost sleep limit your selections to those events that are simply too wonderful to miss. If you’ve always made a big meal, consider ordering take-out from a locally owned restaurant to serve on your best plates. If you’ve always accommodated your kids’ requests for gifts because it’s Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanzaa put new limits on materialism, letting them know you’ll consider one or two items they consider their highest priorities. If you’ve always driven around to see the holiday lights, go outside on a frosty night to sing together (even if only to a lone tree lit by moonlight). You’ll not only save time and money, you’ll also create new traditions.
4. Rethink Gift-Giving.
Great-grandma is right, things have gotten out of hand. In her day children looked forward to gifts such as a fresh orange, maybe a piece of candy, and if they were lucky a toy or useful gift like a pocketknife or sewing kit. Historian Howard Chudacoff writes in Children at Play: An American History that most toys co-opt and control play. A child is better off with free time and objects he or she can use to fuel imagination (yes, a cardboard box).
I admit things got out of hand in my own house. In a quest for meaning (let’s rephrase that to my quest for meaning) we’ve always had handmade holidays. I’m one of those annoying people….. Meals from scratch, hand crafted gifts, organic cookies that are frightening dark due to buckwheat flour. Each of my four children made gifts for everyone every year, gifts that took substantial effort such as woodworking, felting, and ceramics. My kids still make some of the gifts they give although I’ve stopped putting myself in charge of coming up with the ideas and supervising the process.
The last few years economic realities have made handmade and useful gifts ever more necessary for many of us. Thankfully there are solutions. Buy from socially responsible vendors, non-profit sources, and directly from artisans. And take heart, studies show experiences brings more lasting pleasure than possessions. That’s a great reason to steer your holiday dollars toward gifts of theater tickets, museum passes, unusual lessons, local restaurants, and other shared experiences. For more gifts of experience, enjoy these GeekMom suggestions.
5. Last Resort.
This tactic is heavy duty, the one I bring out when I start to feel sorry for myself. Because we’re not crazy busy in comparison to women throughout history. We think we’re stressed? Our foremothers hauled water; carded, spun and sewed clothes; chopped firewood and maintained the stove they cooked on; ground grain and made bread each day; planted and weeded gardens, then canned and dried the harvest; stretched limited food reserves with careful planning to last; cared for babies, children and the elderly with no professional help; treated the sick, stitched wounds and prepared the dead for burial; well, you get the idea.
Worse, many women in today’s world still do this sort of grinding labor each day. Typically, women in developing countries work 17 hours a day. Our sisters receive a tenth of the world’s income while performing two-thirds of the world’s work. These harsh realities put any concept of busy or stressed right out of my head. (For empowering information, check out the wonderful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
So fight the Crazy Busy Syndrome with all you’ve got. And if you aren’t on my list to get homemade buckwheat cookies, count your blessings.