parenthood

A Case For Doing Less This Holiday Season

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

I’m declaring “holiday stress” a national mental health crisis. I just read one of those 5 tips to reduce holiday stress articles, and one suggestion for letting off steam was to go to a private place to scream out all your pent-up rage. Really, Cosmo? This is solid advice for a med student about to take their board exams…but the holidays should never reach this level of stress!

The pressure we put on ourselves to make the holidays magical is massive. For many of us, it comes from a place of caring; let’s make it special for the kids, create memories, carry on a sense of tradition and obligation, impress others, and strive for perfection. The holidays are a people-pleaser’s dream come true and a perfectionist’s worst nightmare.

Manage expectations

I want you to try something. I want you to visualize how you hope your holiday dinner with the family will go. Do you have it? Good. Do you feel all warm and safe, picturing joy and peace, the kids caroling in the snow and the smell of gingerbread wafting through the house? Good news, you’re an optimist.

Or on the other hand, does the thought of the holidays fill you with a sense of dread, worrying about getting it all done in time, how to handle Uncle Bill’s political rants, or the kids throwing tantrums in front of the guests? Well, I guess you’re more of a realist.  

Ada, one of our therapists here at People Bloom once had a client who talked about Thanksgiving going “exactly as planned.” The turkey came out just right, everyone had a great time and no one argued. He was retirement age and that was the first time it has ever happened. Ada’s advice to him was, “You need to mark that on the calendar because that’s not going to be a common occurrence!”

At any rate, regardless of how you visualized your holiday this year, now I want you to erase it! Yes, you heard me; erase the expectation. Things never go quite as we imagine they will. Going into holiday festivities with no expectation, and with no anticipation of the worst will clear your mind of the worries. All you can do is face the next few weeks with an open heart. Have a plan, but be willing to hold onto the plan loosely and do your best. This brings us to the next question: how do you do your best without burning yourself out? 

Managing emotional labor

When it’s time to plan for the holidays, you know that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. So you take it on yourself to do it all, and do it right.  I know there’s a part of you that enjoys the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of bringing joy and delight to your family. But there’s another part too: the tired part, the part that doesn’t always feel appreciated for going above and beyond, the disappointed part when things often do not turn out as planned.

If you’re running the household, things are busy enough. The holidays take busy to the next level, which can leave you feeling stretched too thin and wondering if it’s worth the effort you tirelessly put in.

Questioning traditions

If the holiday hustle and bustle leaves you tired and worn out, ask yourself…

Who am I doing all this for?
Do these people matter? If it’s distant relatives and acquaintances you only see once a year, can you imagine taking some pressure off yourself to impress?

Why am doing this?
Focus on what makes the holidays meaningful to you. When you really delve deep, it’s not about anything external. The holidays are about faith for some, as well as family time, gratitude and a sense of community. All the consumerism and chaos that go beyond this is societal, self-imposed and likely unnecessary/slightly awful.

What will happen if I DON’T do everything on the list?
So, there will be two pies instead of three, there won’t be a handcrafted wreath on the door, Aunt Gloria won’t get a Christmas card, and the kids won’t get 28 presents each. And everyone will survive. I promise the world won’t end.

Drop unnecessary rituals. I know you always made 17 varieties of toffee brittle to give to every member of the extended family. They treasure it when they receive it, but nothing in the world order is changed if they don’t get their sugar fix. Ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so much for others. Is it because you have boundless energy and it brings you joy? Or is it a sense of obligation? If it’s the latter, you know what to do. Or not to do, in this case.

A relaxed host is a happy host

 If you’re hosting the big dinner, take on what you can and let the rest fall by the wayside. You could tear your hair out making sure every traditional dish makes it to the table, but your guests will be more impressed by a simple meal with a relaxed and happy you than a decadent six-course meal with a stressed out, frantic and exhausted you.

If your holiday dinner is not already a potluck, consider making it a potluck. No, really. And don’t worry if a dish doesn’t get made or there is an uneven and ungodly amount of candied yams. Food is food! For too long we’ve worried ourselves silly balancing out the meal with obsessive precision! Even if things have been that way for years past, who’s to say it has to stay that way for this holiday onward?

No one expects perfection but you. Few people notice the lengths you went to for that perfect cornucopia centerpiece. Being known as the Martha Stewart of the clan just makes people take your attention to detail for granted. If they do notice that you’ve stopped doing something, that is an opportunity for you to explain new traditions and to focus on the things that matter more: relationships.

If you do less, the truth is, the holidays won’t look like they usually do, but the person who notices this most is you, and others will be forgiving - a lack of décor or mismatched silverware is the last thing on their minds.  Who knows, if your holiday guests notice that you are too tired to go the extra mile this year, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up the slack. And even if they don’t - the key is to know that’s ok too.

Asking for help

As the hostess with the mostess, you make it look easy, but gathering everyone together can be overwhelming, even for you. Make your life easier by asking for help.  It doesn’t make you helpless - on the contrary, it’s empowering to assert yourself and request a favor here and there.

You don’t have to do it all. Delegate tasks that others can do. People at family gatherings often feel like lumps on a log - restless and eager to help. Keep them busy with tasks that don’t need you - let them take drink orders, add festive music to the playlist, greet guests at the door and take coats.

Feeling present

When you do less, you notice more. I noticed how much more centered I feel when I can just…be among people who I cherish, without planning, controlling and feeling responsible for their fun. Gathering as a family is hard enough in itself - you already checked the box. You celebrated the holidays. Whatever happens, happens.

So take a little off your plate this year. No, don’t literally take food off your plate. Go ahead and eat that third helping of turkey. And if no one stepped up to cook a turkey - a store bought rotisserie isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your family. You’ll see things turn out just fine even when you let it go.

This holiday season, make this your new mantra: simplicity is key, and good enough is good enough.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

 Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you, and she’s starting to realize that when things go all wrong at Thanksgiving, that’s part of the fun because it makes a great story to re-tell at every family dinner for generations to come.

Marriage Problems after Baby? 11+1 Tips to Stay Connected to your Partner

Drew Hays/unsplash.com

Drew Hays/unsplash.com

Cover your eyes if you don't want to read this: It's not looking good after kids

Are you having marriage problems now that your baby is born? You're not alone. My husband recently shared with me the CNN article about the steep decline in marital satisfaction following parenthood. I remember reading such research back in grad school, so it was definitely old news. However, it got me thinking whether the decline has to be this drastic.

Ready for your marriage to go down the toilet?

True, parenting is a major life transition, and this complicated by the fact that you don't know who's coming out on the other side and how their temperament might fit with yours, or not. Sleepless nights, little time to yourself, and a disruption to everything you've ever known. Is there still time and energy to connect with your partner?

I want to say yes!

Here are 11+1 tips to stay connected to your partner after baby:

  1. Use humor – if this is your first child, in all likelihood, a lot of things ring true in Brian Gordon's comic about parenthood. Laugh at yourself and with each other. Is it an interesting finding in baby poop that wasn't well digested? Your mismatched socks? Your partner's overgrown beard? Take time to laugh. Don't take yourselves too seriously.
  2. Admire your partner as a co-parent – this will be your first time witnessing your partner as a father/mother. How are they different with the baby? The same? Can you take a moment to watch the two interact from a distance? How does this make you appreciate your partner all the more?
  3. Make use of every moment – is it the first few minutes of your partner walking through the door or when you pass by each other in the hall? Share a touch, a kiss, a something that lets each other know you're still there. These brief moments of connection can go a long way.
  4. Do the little things – aside from sharing a moment in between feedings, what were the little things you used to do for each other, to show that the other mattered? Is it a quick text with Emoticons, picking up his preferred brand of toothpaste, or making coffee in the morning? When you're tired and your patience is thin, knowing that you're remembered keeps you going.
  5. Hire a sitter – take a break, go out, or do nothing. Time away from your kid and chores makes you a better parent, a better partner. If you must use this time to run errands, remember to grab yourself a little treat.
  6. Set up date nights early on – while it can no longer be every Friday, unless you have a plan, months can go by without the comfort and familiarity of time together. Go out for a movie, a nice dinner, a stroll in your neighborhood. While it may seem like you have left someone important at home, taking the time to connect with your partner can make co-parenting more enjoyable.
  7. Focus on each other during date nights – if you're not careful, topics around your kid's music lessons, her playdate with Sally or even how you've organized the baby's drawers can quickly seep into your date night. Set a rule to minimize business talk during your night out. How is the other person doing? What's happening at work? What did you used to talk about before the baby came along? Revisit that.
  8. Take turns baby sitting - “me time” and time with friends are still important, even though you're pooped and your priorities have shifted. Put it on the calendar that the 2nd Tuesday is your coffee night and the 4th Thursday is bball with his buddies. When you encourage personal interests outside of the home as new parents, you're cognizant of each others' needs as individuals. That's another way of giving to each other.
  9. Keep the conversation going – parenting brings out the worse in all of us. Things that work one day no longer works the next because the kid changes on you. Keep talking about expectations around roles, chores, and responsibilities. Be willing to adapt to the needs and preferences of the kid, and each other.
  10. Visit each other at work with the child – you don't have to wait until Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Set an intention that the visit is as much about seeing your kid and showing him around as it is about meeting with your partner midday.
  11. Involve your child – there are ways to be mindful of your partner while you're with your child. You can talk to them early on about mom's favorite food, dad's favorite color, and let the child pick up something at the store for the other parent. That's hopefully sending the message, “I love you and I'm teaching our child ways to love you too.”

And here's a bonus and my all time favorite:

  1. Use terms of endearment – it often pains me to hear partners be called, “mommy” or “daddy” following the birth of a child. What happened to “Babe,” “Honey,” “Wifey” or “Apple Streusel”? Okay, maybe not “Apple Streusel,” but you get the idea. As much as possible, call your partner the names they were once known for. It's a reminder that you were partners before you were parents.

Another bonus: if this is not your first rodeo, here's an earlier post about connecting with your child around bringing home a second baby.

Mitigating the loss

While I won't argue against 30 years of studies that show time and time again a decline in relationship satisfaction following children, I do believe there are ways to soften the blow. Let me know how I can help!


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond counseling practice in WA. She loves helping individuals and couples grow through life transitions, parenthood being one of them. She's usually overjoyed when her husband brings home the occasional dinner. She's a firm believer that we tend to remember the sweet little things.

Bringing (Another) Baby Home

arekmalang/stock.adobe.com

arekmalang/stock.adobe.com

I was recently asked to comment on how to prepare your child for the arrival of another sib. If it's true that nothing changes the lifestyle of a couple more than the addition of a first baby, then the birth of a sibling must be just as radical for the once-upon-a-time only child. You hear stories of jealousy and parents feeling guilty about not being able to spend as much time with the older child. Know that those moments will naturally happen, and there are also things you can do to make the transition smoother.

  • Keep them in the know: using language that your child would understand, let them know that mommy is prego and the family is expecting another wonderful kiddo!
  • The 9-month period is a process: in the same way you'd go for your ultrasound, go through body changes, and perhaps experience morning sickness, cravings, etc, let your child know that you went through similar and/or different things when pregnant the first time. Talk about your first pregnancy and what that was like.
  • Use other families as examples: talk about uncle Billy or family friend Susie and how there are x number of kids in the home and that makes them siblings.
  • Refer to books: there are a ton of helpful books for children about bringing a baby home. Examples include Babies Don't Eat Pizza, I am a Big Brother, I am a Big Sister, I'm a Big BrotherMy New Baby, and the classic The Berenstain Bears' New Baby
  • Talk about feelings: what is it like for your child to think about having another sibling? Use different mediums to express those feelings, be it drawing, storytelling, acting, etc. Validate all feelings, especially the ones that are hard. Share your own feelings about growing the family.
  • Increase involvement: how would your child like to help decorate the baby's room? What is one or more toy(s) your child would like to put in there? Come feel the baby moving inside mommy's tummy!
  • Anticipate challenges: explain that parents will be busy, sleep deprived and probably crankier, grandma will be over more, and your child won't get as much time with parents, etc. Nonetheless, it doesn't change how much your child is loved.
  • Propose a tentative new routine: bedtime story might be with different adults, 1:1 time to spend with your child might vary depending on the day, etc. Talk about the non-negotiables: your child will still get fed, need to brush their teeth, go to bed...
  • Go over coping skills: in non-urgent situations, and your child wants the attention of pre-occupied adults, what to do instead, for a moment? Color, build Legos, draw, play house...

Enjoy the journey, knowing that the chaos will only be for a while, until you establish a new normal...

Need more support? I love helping people through life transitions! Contact me!