We need to have a talk about one of the most timeless holiday traditions there is—holiday burnout. I’m no stranger to the phenomena myself. Our two kids have birthdays on either side of Christmas by a couple of weeks. In order to make things like birthday parties happen, I had to undergo a very strict timeline that begins on November 1st and doesn’t end until the January birthday of one of the kids. The only thing that saved my sanity is the fact that in our house cooking is not my domain, and thus I am not the family lead on Thanksgiving. I think if I had to be in charge of an elaborate family holiday in the middle of what is already a holiday gauntlet, I would have exploded from the anxiety and stress combination. Which leads to my next question: How many of you feel you are “allowed” to enjoy the holidays and how many of you feel like the season is just an over-glorified Advent calendar where each day brings a new holiday-related stressor?
I get a feeling a lot of parents are feeling like they got the Advent calendar.
It doesn’t have to be that way. No, seriously, it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, I get that some of you have extended families with very particular and demanding holiday expectations, but we’re grown-ups too and we need to learn how to set healthy boundaries. If you are burnt out and stressed out to the point you need a holiday from your holiday season, maybe you should be asking yourself why you are catering to demands that are doing this to you.
A few weeks ago was Thanksgiving, and many advice columns and Reddit threads were devoted to entries from people feeling overwhelmed by what the extended family demanded for that day. Our day was a lot more low-key. We stayed at home this year and picked dishes that may not always be traditional, but were things that our children would eat on purpose (and not just bread rolls either). A lot of the dishes were of the reheat-in-the-oven or prepare-by-microwave variety. No one spent days upon days cooking or had to get up at ridiculous hours to start cooking. After dinner, we popped on holiday PJs, put up the Christmas tree, and watched holiday movies while the grownups handled some holiday-related shopping via tablet. It was low-key and lovely. None of us felt like we had to recover from our holiday. In another year, it might not be just us at home, but we’ll still make certain it feels like fun the way this year did.
As Christmas is approaching, we’re very careful about what all we are committing ourselves too, and some of it we are simply playing it by ear. Maybe we won’t hit as many events as we did in previous years, but I’m okay with that. If the kids are getting stressed and worked up about “another” holiday event, then is dragging them from place to place really worth it? Is your frustration really at getting them out the door or is it because you want to complain just as loudly as they do? If the whole family is miserable about it, why are you dragging yourself through it? Do you actually have to attend all of these things, or do you just get guilt-tripped about some more than others?
I’m tired of hearing from so many parents that are burned out to the point I think they just want the holidays to end. This is especially because in many families it seems the responsibility and duties behind making the holidays happen often fall on one parent in particular, and they’re often the person who is already pulling the majority of the domestic duties as is. If this sounds like your family, you need to give yourself permission to change up the dynamic. In our house, both adults are handling holiday-related things so that the burden is not just dumped on one parent, and we entered the season with a game plan on who was handling what, when, and why. I still have some holiday stress, but it’s a lot more contained and manageable honestly. Fun but easy holiday traditions like holiday shirts (thanks Tee Turtle) or matching PJs (that would be Target) are easy enough to do without a ridiculous amount of effort. We’ll get cookies made at some point, we’ll check out some holiday lights, but we won’t overbook ourselves into oblivion either. Christmas Day we spend at home because the kids like to be able to play with their gifts, and we’ll spend the day in holiday PJs and watching holiday movies while calling relatives to wish them a Merry Christmas. The important part is that we’re going to be able to actually enjoy the day and a lot of the season leading up to it.
I promise you can too, but as parents, we need to stop treating burnout as the most honored holiday tradition first.