Holiday Stress? (Tips for keeping mommies calm!)


It’s crunch time.For some of you, Hanukah is becoming a distant memory and you are focused on the day-to-day task of keeping your little ones entertained during “vacation” (also known as the worst time ever to go to an indoor playground or any other warm play place).For others, you are gearing up for Christmas.You are in the middle of the last desperate mall runs (did I really get presents for everyone?), never-ending grocery lists, and up to your ears in wrapping gifts that will be torn apart within seconds.Hint:skip the fancy bows until they become teens!No matter which category sounds like you, it all adds up to stress.We always want the holidays to look like the perfect holiday card.We want a little snow, but not too much, a nice steaming mug of hot cider, and family gathered by the fire to catch up and maybe sing a few carols.The truth is that it’s never that easy.Or pretty.It takes a lot of work to play Santa (this Santa, for one, is ready to make a run for it) or plan eight nights of celebration.And then the schools let the kids out and many (if not all) classes go onhiatus for a couple of weeks.What’s a mom (or dad) to do?A few weeks ago I was focused on helping the kids with holiday overload.Now it’s time to focus on the parents who have to hold it all together.The fact is that families are complicated.You can’t expect everyone to get along all of the time, and different people have different needs.Sometimes the need to strive for holiday perfection can increase your stress level, which then increases the stress for your kids.Kids pick up on stress.It makes them anxious.They respond by either crying a lot or acting out.Both options then result in more caretaker stress.My husband suffered a terrible case of food poisoning last weekend.He could hardly leave his bed.While Liam was blissfully unaware, Riley’s stress increased with each passing hour that daddy spent in bed.She cried more than usual, and constantly asked where he was and why he couldn’t play.There are only so many times you can answer, “daddy will feel better soon.He just needs his rest” before you’re ready to run away.I’ve been drinking a lot of tea to keep my own stress to a minimum.My Nana raised me to believe that a nice cup of tea can cure just about anything.It’s always my first line of defense when I feel stress creeping in.At the end of the day, parents need to de-stress too so that we can be at our best to help our kids with their everyday needs.Below are some tips for keeping your own stress to a minimum:
1.Know your triggers:We’ve been cooped up for weeks.First on the East coast, when the temperature wouldn’t climb higher than 27, and then back home in LA because the rain just won’t let up.I’m blessed with space and toys, and yet we’re all starting to lose it.We went to the mall for an hour just to run around somewhere else.We’ve also had a bad run of illnesses since late October, which results in sleep deprivation.When I’m tired I don’t eat.When I don’t eat I get cranky.A steady stream of caffeine can only get you so far.Having identified my biggest triggers, I am making an effort to get to bed earlier and snack regularly.I’m no good to my kids if I feel like I’m ready to blow at any given moment.I’m decidedly less stressed already just by tuning into my own needs.Know your triggers.It works.
2.Ask for help:I’m not great when it comes to asking for help.I tend to be the one who provides help instead.Sometimes to my own detriment.Here’s the best tip I can give you:Your husband doesn’t want to do the dishes.He doesn’t want to do the laundry, clean the bathroom, or take out the trash either.Do you?I’m always amused when friends talk about how little their husbands will help with domestic chores unless they are asked.We don’t want to do the chores either…why would they?!This always reminds me of that scene in “The Break-Up” where Jennifer looks at Vince and says, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes” and he replies, “why would anyone WANT to do the dishes”.That doesn’t mean they get a free pass.We are all working hard, whether at a job or parenting or both.We all need to pitch in.Ask them to help you so that you’re not constantly thinking about what you need to do next.
3.Make a list:I love lists.Who doesn’t?Keep a list for gift buying, party planning (if you are one of those brave people throwing a holiday party), gift-wrapping, holiday cards, food preparation, etc.Revise it as you get things done so that you can see the list getting smaller.And, again. Refer back to #2 and ASK FOR HELP (he’s better at wrapping presents than he’s leading you to believe…which brings us to #4).
4.Ditch perfection:Are we really still holding onto this unattainable title?Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.Which means that if you are constantly competing against yourself, you will probably never win.Holiday time is about enjoying time with your family.Don’t worry about throwing the perfect party while wearing the perfect dress. You will never be able to buy all of the right gifts.You can only do your best and try to enjoy the season along the way.Focus on enjoying the little moments.Capture that look of wonder when your four year old first finds the gifts under the tree.Burn a copy of it in the back of your brain and think about that when the caterer mixes up your order or red wine is spilled on the carpet.Perfect is simplicity.Perfect is hot chocolate and laughter by the fire.Or whatever makes you happy….
5.Make time for friends:Studies show that women who maintain long term friendships cope better with stress and illness over time.Make a friend date this holiday season.Enjoy the good memories and have some child free time where you can just enjoy your friendships.But try to stay positive.A new study in Hormones and Behavior (“62 Ways to feel better fast”, Self Magazine, January 2011) shows that when two female friends focus on negative emotions they both have a surge in stress hormones, like cortisol.It’s ok to talk about problems, just try to focus on thinking about coping strategies and ways to make things better.
6.Plan a date night:With so much focus on the kids over the holidays, it’s easy to put your marriage on the back burner.Try to stay focused on each other (after all, your marriage is what started this family) and find time to be together.Whether you hire a babysitter and head out for the night or cook a romantic dinner at home, take some time to really talk, listen, and enjoy the spirit of this magical time of year.
7.Get a massage:I can’t imagine a world that doesn’t include Burke Williams Day Spa.Hint:The Torrance location is really new and beautiful and much less of a scene than some of the others.But most of you don’t live in LA.I love everything from the smell of the products to plush robes right down to the cucumber slices in the water.Any stress I might be harboring dissipates the minute I walk through the front door.Find a place where you can check out for 90 minutes with a relaxing massage and some quiet time.You don’t have to pay the big bucks either.There are many massage schools around where you can get a great massage at a fraction of the price.Can’t find the time?At least sneak in a pedicure.You deserve it!Now is the time for pampering.
8.Stick to your routine:Kids get stressed out and start to have meltdowns when they stray too far from their routines.It’s easy to get off track when school is out and you are in holiday preparation mode (yesterday I was in my pajamas until 11am and almost missed snack and lunch…yikes!).Try to be aware of their normal eating and sleeping routines to avoid meltdowns.Holidays are important, but your kids are more important.Help them have fun by keeping them well slept and well fed.
9.Unplug:Take a break from the email checking, texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting and just get on the floor and play with your kids.Enjoy the world from their perspective for a change, where running with a dump truck is super fun and an animal rescue is the most important task of the day.You’ll thank me later.
On that note, I am unplugging until after Christmas.Time to bake, play, and be Merry!If you’ve already celebrated the holiday season, enjoy some quiet time as a family.If you are waiting for a visit from the big man in the red suit…MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Thanks again for reading along and leaving comments.You inspire me each day!


About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)