Creative Child

The Emotional Toll of Holiday Magic

by Rebecca Eanes

Did you get the perfect presents ordered yet? The ones that will make their eyes light up with excitement? How about groceries for Christmas dinner? And the invitation list? What about the home decorating, tree fixing, and present wrapping? Have you made those magical memories yet? That sleigh riding, cookie baking, reindeer food making, snowman building, snow cream eating, Polar Express watching with hot cocoa holiday magic? Also, don’t forget to do your normal hustle - clean the house, pay the bills, cook the meals, play with the kids, walk the dog, answer emails, and work, work, work. And for goodness’ sake, did you remember to move the elf?

Ah, the holidays - when exhaustion, worry, and anxiety run just beneath all that Christmas cheer. When it’s on you to be a super parent, Santa, and a whole team of elves, the holiday hustle can take an emotional toll. When you add in factors such as a pandemic, divorce, loss of a family member, or financial difficulties, the stress can go through the roof, leaving us trying to cope in unhealthy ways. As we try to make everything perfect for our children, the weight of increased expectations feels crushing and sucks the joy right out of the season.

There are a few things we can do to put the cheer back in Christmas. It just takes a dash of planning, a sprinkle of self-care, and a heaping helping of boundaries. Here are five ways to lessen the emotional toll and enjoy the season with your family.

  1. Every article you read on this topic will tell you to just say no to things that stress you out. As if it were that simple! My advice is to say yes - with gratitude. It’s all about inner dialogue and the story you tell yourself that will shape your holiday experience. Flip “I have to…” to “I get to…” or even “I’m looking forward to…” Feel the stress and anxiety melt away when you shift to a mindset of thankfulness for all you and get to experience. Psychologist Tim Sharp, founder of The Happiness Institute, recommends planting small seeds of optimism that will blossom into a more positive outlook overall, such as “once I get these gifts wrapped, I can check it off my list and stop stressing about it.” He also recommends making whatever you’re doing more fun by adding cheerful music or making a game of it. It’s tough to be in a bad mood when Christmas jams are playing.
  2. If you can’t stick to the routine, give the kids a heads up, and maybe even a practice run! For many, the holidays involve lots of traveling or company over, and that can wreak havoc on your kids’ routine. Cue cranky kids! Bringing along familiar books, blankets, and toys when you travel is helpful, but also doing some part of your normal home routine while away will make your kiddo feel more secure. So if you usually read a story to them before bed, don’t skip it at Grandma’s.
  3. Connection is better than perfection. Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Maybe this is the first Christmas since your divorce, or maybe you just cannot afford to get your kid that new gaming system he’s asking for. These types of situations can make us feel so guilty for not being able to give our kids the perfect holiday, but perfection isn’t as important as your relationship and the heart to heart connection your child feels with you. Feeling cared for, adored, and delighted in will do more in the long run for your child than a PS5. Children are resilient, and it is not a failure to be less than perfect - it’s human.
  4. Yes, I’ll say it. Make time to pamper yourself. I know, I know! You barely have time to shower, but I’m not talking about long bubble baths and mini ski vacations. I think, especially when you have little kids, you have to adjust your expectations around self-care a bit. It’s not so much about finding time alone, away from the kids (although that’s nice, too!) as it is finding little things that fill you up along the way. Chatting with a bestie while you push the stroller through the park, reading a chapter of that novel you’re loving during nap time, or just being in the present moment enjoying your toddler’s laughter and soaking really soaking it in. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, it just has to make you feel better.
  5. Try a little mindfulness. Really take a moment to savor that Christmas turkey. Chew slowly and really taste it. Put down the camera or iphone and watch the delight on your children’s faces as they open gifts. Mindfulness is about bringing yourself into the present moment. It’s taking a walk in nature and feeling the wind, looking at the trees, listening to the birds - not thinking about the 75 things you need to do when you get back. Mounting evidence from hundreds of universities shows that mindfulness reduces stress and builds inner strength so that future stressors have less of an impact. Start with awareness, becoming more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and senses.

Wishing you a season filled with laughter and joy, from our families to yours.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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