5 Things to Remember When Trying to Survive the Holidays

holiday season

The holidays can be hard for so many of us. It’s as though all of the dysfunction ever known to man emerges on one day. The pressures can be overwhelming, too. I remember the first time I had to bring a dozen hard-boiled eggs to a holiday event at my in-law’s and I swear (at the time) it was the most stress-inducing event I had ever engaged in. (So many eggs were lost that day.) But today is a different story! Over the years I have gained enough wisdom to help me remember a few key things for the holiday season; making it all a much more bearable experience. A good sense of humor and strong cocktails help, too.

Here are 5 Things to Remember When Trying to Survive the Holiday Season

Everyone is Self-Absorbed

In the summer of 2016, I was very abruptly diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Cancer is rarely funny except when I have it, as I strive to focus on the funny and absurd no matter what. The first time I saw my extended family after surgery and radiation treatment was at Thanksgiving and do you know that not one single person asked me how I was doing? I know what you’re thinking so I’ll clarify: The house was filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins’ children and not one single person asked me if I was going to live or die. Not one. The hard truth is, most people are far too absorbed in their own lives to really notice what’s happening to those around them.

Knowing this is very helpful for the holidays. Say, for example, if you are put in charge of the appetizers this year, fear not! The honest truth is, no one is going to notice if your crust is slightly undercooked. Relax and remember what happened to me on Thanksgiving. Don’t stress because no one is paying attention anyway!

Lower Your Expectations

Expectations are always what get us in trouble during the holiday season. In the south we hope for a white Christmas but ultimately end up with humidity and mosquitoes and we are generally let down. Remember when I expected people to notice my fresh surgery scars and ask me how I was feeling? Expectations are rarely met. The best way to handle the holidays is to lower your expectations. Don’t expect the proposal. Don’t expect the new car surprise. Don’t expect ongoing joy and laughter. Don’t expect your kids to be gleefully happy about their presents.

Before entering any holiday function, picture your ideal family experience. Now lower your expectations…a little lower…slightly less…down one more notch…there. You are set. With the bar set that low, you cannot be disappointed. In fact, anything good that happens above that bar is a true holiday miracle, and that, my friend is something to revel in.

Smile and Nod

I’m not sure what it is about the holiday season that makes people engage in the worst kinds of small talk. I can only surmise that when people are crowded together in someone’s tiny kitchen they will do anything to avoid awkward silences. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather an awkward silence any day over having to listen to Uncle Joe go on about his experience at the deli counter. (No, I really can’t believe she gave you more ham then what you paid for.) Worse yet is the cousin who goes on and on about how fantastic life is in radio sales. Or the in-law who loves to brag about her perfect children and lists the things they would never, ever do.

Stop Apologizing

You are doing a damn good job. Even on our worst days, if we simply show up, that’s a success. Don’t let other peoples’ judgment get in the way of a happy holiday for you. Apologize for nothing. If Aunt Jackie thinks the kids are too loud, that’s her problem. Smile and be proud of your socially outgoing children. If your sister-in-law thinks your sweet potato soufflé is too dry, smile and remind her that’s how it’s served in France. (It’s totally okay to roll your eyes when she walks away.)

Stop Comparing

Comparison is the thief of joy. Repeat after me: Comparison is the thief of joy. Our joy is a precious resource and should not be given away because of someone else. My Christmas tree will never look amazing. I may never be able to make sugar cookies that don’t spread out into unrecognizable globs of dough. My hard-boiled eggs may never be evenly peeled. As long as we are making memories as a family, memories that my children enjoy, how I stack up against other people no longer matters. AT ALL.  I refuse to give up my joy because someone else had the time and talent to create perfect little snowmen out of unmatched socks.

Lastly, remember that the holiday season doesn’t last forever. This too shall pass. Don’t end up looking and feeling like my son’s panicked turkey. Cheers! xoxo

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A version of this piece originally appeared at Entermothering.com, published with permission.

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Melanie Forstall
Melanie Forstall is a full-time mother, full-time wife, full-time teacher, and never-enough-time blogger at Melanie Forstall: Stories of Life, Love, and Mothering. She holds a doctorate in education and yet those many years of schooling have proved to be utterly useless when it comes to actual mothering.