Mamas, Holidays, and Stress

crazy christmas2017 Update: We still think this is an interesting discussion about mamas, holidays, and stress. Since it’s that time of year, you may also want to check out our posts on holiday business etiquette.

So: anyone else feel like your head is about to explode? Between buying gifts for everyone, including in-laws, cleaning Casa Griffin for company (ok, cleaning Casa Griffin so our cleaning professional can actually clean it), making sure I have all supplies needed for holiday recipes before the stores close — and getting what work I need to get done before everything is making me totally crazy. How is it December 23? What’s my plan of attack, particularly with no school for the next two weeks? Happy holidays, indeed.

I guess this is my fifth Christmas as a mom, but the first time really feeling the stress. Moms who’ve been in my shoes much longer: does it get better? Ladies, do you feel the stress? What do you do to alleviate it during this time of year (other than, you know, not leaving everything until the last minute)? In the great juggle of work and life, which stressor is more significant this year?

Pictured: Airedale Christmas, originally uploaded to Flickr by Steve Hayward


  1. Been there done that! I’ve started to realize what can and should be declined and/or outsourced and that’s helped a ton with holiday stress. Examples:

    1) I no longer hand-address holiday cards. Our address list is uploaded to and they stamp and send ’em for me. I used to feel guilty about not hand-addressing, but then I realized (a) it’s a miracle these get out anyway since I have little kids and (b) I wasn’t personalizing them inside anyway so why worry?

    2) Saying “no” to stuff that makes more to-dos. My SIL always hosts a big holiday cookie exchange and while I’d love to partake, making X dozen cookies on top of everything else I have to do at this time of year is a big ol’ NOPE.

    3) Dialing down my expectations for our family — we have Elf on the Shelf and he basically just sits on a different shelf each day (and even this is a stretch for me and my husband). No clever vignettes or Elf-that-brings-gifts-for-the-kids. And truthfully if I could go back in time I would never do the Elf again!

    4) Internet shopping. There would be no Christmas in this house if it weren’t for Amazon — I honestly think I’ve been in just one, maybe 2, brick-and-mortar stores this entire holiday season.

    Just do what you can and leave the rest…I think we’re all the hardest on ourselves, so try to be kind!

    • Anon S says:

      Hahaha at the elf on the shelf thing! Man, how do people have time and creativity to come up with so many different things?! My daughter is 8 months so we’re not there yet, but I’m hoping I can get away with not doing the elf thing when she’s older!!

      • mascot says:

        My kid is prime Elf on the Shelf age and we don’t do it. He doesn’t seem to care.

        • We don’t do it either. My son is 7 and he has heard about it at school, but does not seem concerned that he does not have one.

          • Meg Murry says:

            Another in the “heck no” to elf on a shelf. Like I need another thing to do/forget.

            What has made the difference to me is:

            1) a job with lots of vacation time and closed days, and bosses that basically said “you have vacation days left so you aren’t working, period”. Oh what a difference that makes
            1a) even though I’m not working, daycare is open, so that is where the little one is, and the big one is old enough to be fun to hang out with and moderately helpful at laundry, etc – or can entertain himself with books, TV and video games. Next year daycare is closed for the last week of the year, and I’m tempted to send them anyway.
            2) I give just above zero f’s. My house is a mess. We didn’t put up a tree until December 19th, and let the kids do 95% of the decorating while H and I drank coffee/cocoa with booze and directed. We made one batch of Christmas cookies. I said “no” to a lot of parties and events.
            3) don’t focus on “all the things”. My parents and sister said ” don’t buy us presents”. Rather than insist on stressing myself out about it, I said “ok” and didnt buy them anything. We bought a the majority of the kids presents on Amazon Prime from our couch on Thanksgiving day, and I “wrap” most of them by shoving in a gift bag with tissue paper. We got a couple of big-ish presents for each kid and that’s enough, I’m not trying to fill in with a bunch more, because after a few presents they really don’t care.
            4) simplify. We don’t have a fancy meal on Christmas eve or Christmas Day – just a half step above everyday fare, with some tried and true recipes, many of which can be prepped ahead. I also started the tradition of Christmas brunch, which basically means ‘breakfast-y foods that I can actually cook make, plus mimosas” and we nibble at that all day on Christmas. I make a couple of strata/crustless quiche the day before, put in the oven when we put out the last of the presents at midnight and use the automatic feature on my oven to turn it on and bake it automatically. We also do things like frozen waffles and grocery store bagels.
            4a) I put my favorite Christmas recipes in the Paprika app, added 2 “recipes” called “basic groceries” and “lunch and nibbling food” and make my grocery lists off that.

            I suspect my Zen serene feeling right now will all fall apart by Jan 4th within an hour or two of stepping in my office, but if you can afford vacation time while shipping your kids off to daycare for a few days/few hours a day it makes things sooooo wonderful.

            Ask me again tonight when I’m swearing at the [email protected] Kindle Fire my husband bought the kids that won’t let me set it up the way I want or whrn I discover we are out of scotch tape and start wrapping with painters tape or electrical tape (did that one year!)- but right now I’m feeling pretty good.

      • Anglophile says:

        9 month old but also planning to skip the Elf on the Shelf thing when he gets older!

        • Edna Mazur says:

          My kiddos are young too (22 months and 7 months) and we don’t plan to do it either. Some random stranger at Kohl’s asked me if my oldest gets excited about Elf on the Shelf yet and when I told her we don’t do it she looked positively scandalized, like child abuse scandalized. Sigh.

          • Notinlaw says:

            One 7yo. No Elf on the Shelf. He’s never asked about it; I don’t intend to do it. Have enough stress.

            Honestly, I find adding all the holiday stuff from Thanksgiving to New Years on top of regular life stressful.

    • Lyssa says:

      I’m completely at a loss as to how my parents managed to do a big Christmas, even keeping the Santa secret, for 4 kids before the days of Amazon.

  2. Sharing is caring says:

    “Between buying gifts for everyone, including in laws….” Why are you buying all the gifts? Can’t your husband buy gifts for his family? I hear a lot of women complaining about this, and I always wonder why they have absorbed their husband’s responsibility to shop for his own family. Alternatively, I shop for the wine in his family, and he shops for the men in my family– either way, my husband and I end up buying the same amount of gifts so I’m not responsible for all of it.

    • Sharing is caring says:

      I shop for the WOMEN in his family, not the wine– though I’d happily shop for that, too.

    • Anon S says:

      Sharing is caring – I agree with you, but I think people have different strengths – for example, my husband sucks balls at buying gifts. He just does. He gets people great gifts but they’re literally months later after the event. This year, I told him he had to buy gifts for his parents and brother (b/c I had the thought of why do I have to buy all of the gifts) and it’s December 23 and he still hasn’t bought them, which just adds more stress to me thinking when the eff is he going to buy them, and now they’re definitely not getting delivered to people on time if he hasn’t bought them yet. Sometimes it’s not worth the additional hassle of delegating! Not sure I will have him be in charge of buying any gifts next year b/c of this!

      • NewMomAnon says:

        It’s only “delegating” if it was your job from the beginning, which it was not (unless you have some explicit agreement with your spouse that made it your job). Not your problem, not your stress.

        Also – subscription boxes make lovely gifts that you can order from your couch now without worrying about rush shipping.

        • Sharing is caring says:

          I agree with NewMomAnon– it’s not delegating if it was your husband’s responsibility originally anyway. No one “sucks balls at buying gifts.” There are people who choose to procrastinate and shirk the responsibility of it, but they don’t suck at it. They just decided not to do it (and to consequently leave it for you to do).

    • I panicked about gifts for my in-laws until we actually got married then I decided it isn’t my problem. I actually am not sure if we got them anything last year. My husband worked it out with his sister this year, so I guess if we didn’t get them anything last year he learned from it? His parents didn’t get us anything last year, so either way I am not too concerned with it.

  3. NewMomAnon says:

    End of the year is my busy season at work. I am a single mom with a young child. So I scaled way back. Most of my holiday prep was done the week of Thanksgiving – tree went up, presents were purchased (only one per person, and socks for everyone’s stockings) and wrapped. Since then, I’ve done a few extra things like taking my kiddo for a picture with Santa (preplanned at a place that takes reservations, no standing in line for this momma), and I ordered cards using the pictures from the Santa venture. Whether they get mailed or just handed out as I see people – TBD. I made one batch of cookies while visiting with some friends. No Elf on the Shelf, no Advent calendar, no cookie exchanges, no wild lighting displays or elaborate decorations.

    My big life hack – I told my (retired) parents and (childless) sibling we would show up at X time on Christmas day and leave at Y time. Everything in the middle (food prep and consumption, gift opening, other things) – they can plan it. And if they don’t make plans, we’ll just have a cozy family time and order pizza. It’s fine.

  4. I find the holidays incredibly stressful. This year, I ordered almost everything from Amazon Prime and that helped. Although, in past years, my husband and I have gotten a babysitter and done a nice dinner out and then shopped together for everything. That is fun too.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      My parents apparently used to take a day off from work, do all the shopping and wrapping and planning, and turn it into a big date day.

      • Meg Murry says:

        H and I did that for a few years and enjoyed it – usually I would just take a half day and meet him for shopping and lunch and/or dinner.

        This year we did it from the couch with our phones and tablets on Amazon Prime after Thanksgiving and after bedtime one night.

      • Spirograph says:

        I like this idea and might steal it next year.

  5. Lisa M. says:

    I clicked through from a Corporette link because this topic caught my eye. My oldest “child” is 22 and I also have two teenagers, so I’ve been at this for a while. I’d say overall it has gotten better over the years, but a lot of that depends on my willingness to put aside my perfectionist tendencies and enjoy things. Some years I’m better at that than others. One thing that helped tremendously this year was taking a vacation day early in December to decorate at home and do the shopping that needed to happen at brick and mortar stores. I got more done in that day than I could have over multiple weekends since holiday prep was my sole focus. It has made me much more relaxed this year. Now, I just have to enforce my request that the kids get their area of the house cleaned up to a point where I won’t be horrified for visiting family who are staying with us over the holiday to see it!

  6. Spirograph says:

    I basically minimize all trips out of the house. No post office if I can avoid it, and no trips to the store unless I can tack them onto my work day.

    My mom is in town for a week, dad and siblings will be here Xmas Eve through the weekend. I have a week’s worth of easy dinners (crock pot, frozen pizza, etc) planned, and bought all the groceries Monday night after the kids were in bed. Christmas Eve dinner is going to be a pre-baked ham that can heat in the oven while we’re at church and crock pot mashed potatoes. Frozen green beans to be microwaved when we get home, and no shame.

    We Amazon Prime’d all the presents, and had my nieces’ and nephews’ presents sent straight to their house. I’ve just been letting the boxes collect in our basement storage area. My mom offered to wrap things yesterday while I was at work and kids were at daycare, and I took her up on that in a hot second. I picked up stocking stuffers at the drugstore during my lunch hour today. My parents, DH’s parents, and my grandparents will all get the same photo album (snapfish or similar) of the year’s worth of pictures. I tell them all that I want to be able to include Christmas pictures, so they’re getting a MLK or Presidents Day present instead. Score one for procrastination!

    I do address Christmas cards by hand, and write notes to some people, and include the kids’ school pictures. It took me one weekend’s naptimes, but I like it. I did buy stamps online, though, (thanks for the suggestion, Kat!) and use sticker return address labels. I also did a cookie exchange, but it was kid friendly, in the neighborhood, involved daytime booze, and I really like to bake, so that wasn’t a chore for me.

    I will never, ever do Elf on the Shelf, and I warned my mom and my MIL not to let that evil into my house.

  7. Late here says:

    What has helped me is remembering that the 12 days of Christmas *start* on Christmas. If there was something I wanted to do (like make candy cane bark) with my son, I have this week to do it. I also tried to focus on the parts of the celebration that really matter to me.

  8. I did an activities-based Advent, an Elf that moved sometimes, and my girls danced in a week-long ordeal of our local Nutcracker ballet. Oh, and I hosted all of Christmas Eve/Christmas/all weekend blowout with my inlaws and parents. My house was pristine and the menu had some homemade items. I feel like I successfully pulled off a Pinterest-worthy Christmas.

    I’m exhausted and emotional sitting here at work. It’s been a very long month of making things special for everyone else while all I really wanted to do was crawl in bed with a book. I pushed myself to keep going, and while the Christmas season was wonderful, I didn’t WANT to do any of that. I felt like I should do it, mostly because my youngest is 5 and I felt a lot like, “If I don’t dig deep and go see lights/make hot chocolate/bake these damn cookies/read this book out loud I’ll regret the wasted time when it’s too late.”

    You know what I’d love? I would love to pack up my kids (no presents) and take a family vacation over Christmas. Avoid all the decorating, and food prep, and pressure. This is acceptable when kids are like, what? 11?

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