This month, I'd like to address a situation that comes up every year at this time, in my own life and in that of most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I hear it from my clients, from attendees of my speaking events, from friends, and even from my usually unflappable sister! I call it "The Holiday Crazies".
I find at this time every year that I get a mild case of panic at the thought of accomplishing everything on my holiday to-do list. Adding all of the extra tasks of shopping, wrapping, shipping, decorating, cooking, holiday cards, etc., to my already busy schedule can keep me up at night and send me over the edge of rational thought!
Years ago, in my previous life as a music teacher and church music director, the holidays were particularly taxing, with extra rehearsals and concerts filling every possible minute from Thanksgiving until New Year's. With two little children, trying to keep up was impossible. I staggered through the holiday season on little sleep, fueled by caffeine, sugar, and stress. I would inevitably end up with my annual "Christmas flu," which always hit just as I was beginning to relax on Christmas night. I knew that I couldn't continue, but I had a hard time letting go of the notion of the idea that it was solely up to me to create the "perfect" family holiday. After yet another frantic, sleep-deprived, joyless holiday season, I finally came to grips with the fact that I needed to establish some priorities, and one of them had to be my own mental and physical health. I took the bold step of declaring to my husband, "something's gotta give." When I sat down and analyzed the minimum of what absolutely needed to be done, versus what wasn't critical, and what I enjoyed doing, versus what I absolutely dreaded, it became clear. Among the chores I hated was the holiday baking, specifically making Christmas cookies. (I've never been a joyful cook, and baking was my least favorite of all!) So I decided that that time-consuming task could easily be let go. My husband, looking somewhat forlorn, said, "But, we have to have Christmas cookies! It wouldn't feel like Christmas without them!" After he dismissed the idea of bakery-bought cookies, I jokingly suggested that HE could bake the cookies. He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, and said, "OK, I can do that!" After I picked myself up off the floor, I handed over the recipe folder, thinking that this notion would last through exactly one batch of botched cookies.
To my surprise and delight, my husband turned out to be not just a capable baker, but an excellent one! Not only did he take on the task with his customary focus and gusto, he included our children as well. Now, the chore of baking cookies was painful enough, but the concept of doing it with toddlers would have sent me screaming into
the streets with drool running down my chin! Yet he patiently allowed them to mix, cut out shapes and decorate. By the end of the morning, the children would be covered with flour (along with every available surface,) and the kitchen floor would crunch for days with red and green sprinkles. We have some wonderful pictures of our two girls in aprons that reached to their little toes, standing on stools so they could reach the counter top. For many years since that time, our girls have looked forward to their cookie baking day (sometimes more than one) with Dad. Together they pore over recipes ahead of time, debating the merits and drawbacks of traditional favorites versus new flavors and ideas. Even now that they are fully grown and independent adults and can't always make it home, they still e-mail cookie recipe ideas back and forth and look forward to spending at least a little time baking with their dad.
Had I not been willing to prioritize and let go of some of my holiday to-do list (and had a husband who was willing to try something new to help the cause!) this wonderful family tradition would never have been established. My kids have some great memories of father-daughter time that they will cherish forever. Since that fateful day when I realized that I didn't really have to do it all by myself, I've tried very hard to let go of what isn't important so that I can focus on the best stuff - the activities that bring my family and me the most joy. While it hasn't been easy (I'm still a control freak of the highest order), the holidays are now so much more relaxed and enjoyable for all of us. Because, as the old saying goes, "If mama ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!"
Are you a victim of "The Holiday Crazies"? Do you stagger over the finish line at the end of the holiday season exhausted and spent? Does the thought of your holiday to-do list keep you up at night? Take some time now to sit down and have an honest discussion with your family. Ask them what's important to them. You may be surprised at what they say. The traditions that they cherish may be different from what you thought were "must-haves." Once you establish what's important and what can be let go, ask for help! Realize that you don't have to do it all by yourself to create the perfect holiday (does that exist in reality anyway?) Start with Thanksgiving dinner preparations, move on to Hanukkah, Christmas, and slide into the New Year ready to go instead of ready to drop. Figure out what you can keep, what you enjoy, and what your family really values. Let the rest go, and get it all done with minimum stress. You never know what incredible family holiday traditions may develop because you did!