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This Holiday Season, Ditch the Mom Guilt

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I’ve felt a bit off kilter this December. It stems from taking the must-do, should-do, could-do, won’t-do (MoSCoW) approach to my holiday preparations this year.

Take Christmas cookies, for example. I mentioned in my previous post that, after consulting with Evan and Nate, I moved “bake at least two different types of cookies” from my should-do list to my won’t-do list. It’s been a huge relief not to have big baking projects to undertake with “help” from the kids.

But even though it’s a burden lifted and I made the decision weeks ago, I haven’t fully let go. A big part of me still feels guilty. The internal dialogue goes something like this: “Really, Katie? You’re going to be the person that comes to family Christmas without a single cookie to add to the tray? You’re not even going to make the Oreo truffles that everyone loves? You’ll have to offer random candy to the boys for dessert on Christmas Day because you don’t have a *single* homemade Christmas cookie!”

Even just writing those words, I felt a little panic welling up. I’m fighting the urge to delete this post and bolt to the kitchen to get baking asap. Who am I to NOT BAKE COOKIES?

But I’m taking a deep breath and pausing to reflect instead. For as long as I’ve had kids, December has felt like a month-long stressfest punctuated by occasional moments of levity. It’s consisted of making a really long list of things I *must* do to make Christmas joyful for our family, then getting completely frazzled trying to get them all done and feeling anything BUT joyful. I’m writing a new story this year, and reminding myself that it’s only natural some anxiety and doubts are arising. That always happens when you try out a new way of doing things; even if the old way sucks, it’s the familiar way. The new way will likely lead to a much more pleasant destination, but it still involves navigating uncharted territory.

One of last year’s masterpieces. There’s always so much activity leading up to Christmas that we decided to save gingerbread house-making for Christmas Day. Doing that again this year!

I’ve talked with good friends recently (hi, Jana and Rebecca!) and I know it’s not just me. We all want to give our kids magical memories. We want them to look back at their childhoods and feel the warm glow of family Christmas. But why do moms have to have a miserable December for our kids to have a merry one?

When the holiday to-do list gets too long, my default solution has been to try to create more efficiency. Surely it all must be doable if I can just create a better system! But there is no perfect system. The only ways to truly deal with a too-long to-do list are to 1) share the load and 2) make the list shorter.

On that first point, Mike and I have worked/are working together on getting the tree and decorating it, figuring out presents for the kids, wrapping those presents (eventually… we’re not there yet), and planning/going on our drive to look at Christmas lights. Next year when we brainstorm our MoSCoW list, I do want to get more detailed about gifts because three little words, “shop for gifts,” of which I’ve done the majority, represent hours and hours of work. I’d like to take more of a divide-and-conquer approach to shopping next Christmas.

I also am trying my best to keep moving more activities to the won’t-do list. One way I just did that is to change up how we’re doing food on Christmas Day. I always find there’s so much pressure because it’s not just one meal that’s supposed to be special, it’s ALL of them. As the family meal planner, I’d decided on cinnamon rolls and fruit salad for breakfast, fresh pasta with two different kinds of sauces and roasted vegetables for lunch, and soup and baguette sandwiches for dinner.

Little Evan helping decorate the Christmas tree cinnamon rolls a number of years back

At first I was congratulating myself on making things less stressful because I could “just” make and freeze the sauces and soup ahead of time. Which is true, except when ahead of time was I exactly planning to do this? In the evenings, when I’m exhausted? On the weekends, when Mike and I are taking care of joint projects while also trying to spend quality time with the kids? I realized these little chunks of time when Bennett naps and I write are the only time I could potentially devote to special cooking projects. But I love writing. It feeds my soul. I don’t want to go without soul nourishment in the name of three different special meals that aren’t a particularly meaningful part of our Christmas.

So instead, copying the wisdom of my friend Jana and giving a nod to my Jewish husband’s upbringing, we’re going to order Chinese. The food I remember being super special for me as a kid, and which my own kids have grown to love, are the cinnamon rolls in the shape of a Christmas tree. I’ll make those–and by “make,” I mean open a couple tubes of them from Trader Joe’s and arrange them on a pan–along with the fruit salad the kids requested, and call my cooking duties done. Bring on the takeout. 🥡

And know what else I love about that idea? The rest of the day I will be free to decorate gingerbread houses with the kids, snuggle and read Christmas books by the fire, watch a Christmas movie or two, and help with the assembly and trying out of the kids’ gifts. I’ll be able to fully enjoy the day, rather than bearing the mental load of figuring out meal times and tracking when I’ll need to start boiling water for the pasta or getting stuff assembled for sandwiches.

I’m putting my story out here to give you, fellow mom, permission to do less this December, and to do so without apologizing. Yes, your family deserves a merry, meaningful Christmas, but so do YOU. Keep working on setting down more of those Christmas responsibilities you’re holding. You’ll certainly do it differently than I have because what’s important and meaningful for each family is unique. But that’s also the point–keep the stuff that matters and ditch the rest. Your kids will have just as many meaningful memories, not least because those memories will feature a mom who’s laughing and light-hearted instead of stressed and impatient. What better present to your family than your joyful presence?

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