I hated the holidays. It was my scandalous secret which I tried valiantly to hide. As it was, juggling parenting, a private practice, academic studies and extended family obligations was more than overwhelming, but the pressure for consistent holiday cheer and endless seasonal responsibilities pushed me over the edge. Was I the only one walking around resentful and exhausted trying to smile with gritted teeth and a serious sleep deficit?
I added that to my long list of self-recriminations; I wasn’t like all the other mothers who (I naively thought) reveled in this yearly opportunity to create everlasting memories of holiday cheer. And I was too stressed out to be excited by the holiday atmosphere at work. All I wanted was to curl up with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee and the evening to myself. I felt ashamed, guilty and alone.
Waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare where I had forgotten to turn on the oven and had nothing to serve my assembled family and guests I realized I had to do something…fast. There was no way I would allow myself to miss out on this yearly excitement and I was tired of feeling that I was shortchanging myself and my family.
I tried (and failed) to force myself to just get with the program and stop overthinking. Then I tried to immerse myself in the Instagram picture-perfect suggestions hoping they would motivate and enlighten me. What I found was that it only served to fill me with silent dread when I realized there was no way I could create those surreal family experiences. I even tried to get sentimental about my childhood memories but that wasn’t enough for me to figure out a plan that was realistic.
After much soul-searching, I finally realized that what was ruining this heartwarming and uplifting time of year for me was my unrealistic image of what a good mom could or should be: constantly upbeat, humming jingles and organized to the point where quality time with each child is sacred and sincere. But where/when/how? with the endless to-do lists and piles of wrapping paper? How could I find quiet time when I came home to bedlam and only after bedtime was done (is it ever done?) did I have time to tackle the never-ending housework before even attempting to plan a holiday menu, let alone find time to shop for gifts.
And then I realized, that maybe my harsh inner critic and rigid expectations of myself as a functioning loving mother …was outdated? Maybe the greatest gift I could give myself and my children is to accept that any time with me…was quality time
Once I internalized the fact that just as families are changing and our social norms are in flux, quality time no longer has to be the traditional one-on-one time hyper- focused only on my children, it could be just as effective and meaningful it if is with them. And holiday season offers a plethora of opportunities to just be/do/accomplish together.
I even used a Green skill from my GPS parenting method which allowed me to be creative; we created a “family blips and blunders” contest where misunderstandings, flubs and failures vied for first place in our own particular brand of family humor.
So waiting on a freezing street corner for a no show became an excuse for decadently delicious hot chocolate for all involved. Not realizing there was peanut oil in a Chinese dinner created a pizza party in the next room for the children (we enjoyed the child-free zone for the five minutes it took them to finish their pizza and fries in the other room). And the clumsily wrapped gifts took on a sentimental aura of the gift of love.
Using my creativity to frame all my time with my kids as quality time, and celebrating the inevitable challenges, disappointments and changes which are so much a part of this hectic season, helped me minimize the mommy guilt and make the most of these precious times. A reason to celebrate, wouldn’t you agree?
For more tips on how to turn Mommy Guilt into Mommy Gold, grab your free copy of the One Minute Mother Method.