I Was a Mom Who Dreaded Christmas

dreaded christmas dreaded christmas

It was only early November, but we were in the middle of the first big snowstorm of the year. My older kids pranced around in their pajamas, filling the house with laughter and the pure ecstasy of an unexpected day off of school, but I was slumped in my rocking chair with the baby, a dark cloud hanging over me.

I should have been delighting right alongside my kids, with visions of sledding and hot chocolate dancing in my head, but instead, I found myself feeling downright Scroogey about the upcoming holidays. What did I have to look forward to, anyways? Spending money I didn’t have on presents? Watching my house fill up with more crap for me to organize and keep clean? Worrying yet again if I was raising kids that are focused on getting, instead of giving? Oh, and let’s not forget my personal favorite: being the sole adult responsible for producing the “magic” of the holidays?

That morning, for whatever reason, all kinds of negativity seemed to hit me at once.

The thing is, I used to love Christmas and would find joy in everything from shopping for the perfect present for everyone on my list to wrapping gifts under the glow of the twinkle-lights. What, I wondered, had changed over the years? The exhaustion of parenting probably had a lot to do with it. But there was one thing I knew: I didn’t want Christmas to feel like one more chore. So I decided to make a change. I’d find ways to recapture the joy of the season-for myself. So here’s what I have been doing to find my way back:

I’m sharing  the magic.

One of the tricky parts about this year’s holiday has been that my two oldest (11 and 9) are now both “in” on the behind-the-scenes of holiday magic. But I’ve decided to embrace this and see it as a positive; I now have holiday helpers! In fact, I tasked them with being in charge of our family’s first Elf on the Shelf. They have fun setting up the Elf and I have fun knowing I don’t have to do it. Win-win!

I’m giving in to the grandparents’ excess.

This a horribly privileged yet true-for-my family statement. My kids are the only grandchildren on one side, and both sets of grandparents are major gift-givers, so I’ve spent so many years stressing and whining and complaining about the volume of plastic junk my kids accumulate. This year, I decided to do something radical: let it go.

The grandparents’ gift giving isn’t about me, and although I can try to manage the situation, ultimately I’m not in control. So I’m trying to back off and let my family members shower my kids with love in a way that works for them. Is it maddening that other kids in the world can’t even afford food and I’m worried about accumulating too many presents? Absolutely. But instead of trying to control other people, I am working on controlling the things I can control, namely my home and my heart.

I’ve decided to be OK with disappointing my kids on Christmas morning.

We’re supposed to want to make our kids happy with perfect gift on Christmas morning, right? Well, no, not really. For example, my daughter wants a smartphone this year. And while part of me wants nothing more than to make this wish come true, I have had to remind myself over and over again that we’re not ready to take that step and I can’t let my desire for a “magical Christmas” overshadow that.

I’m not procrastinating.

Every year, I make a Christmas photo album for my family of the previous year, and, every year, I put it off until the last minute and have to pull several all-nighters and then spend a million dollars in shipping. So every year, this gift becomes a source of stress for me. But this year, as soon as I felt the holiday anxiety begin to ramp up, I bit the bullet and got the book done. And because it felt so good to get ahead, I also finished all of my shopping, too. (Thanks, Amazon Prime.)

I’m taking a social media fast.

For the length of advent season, I decided to take a social media cleanse. It’s forcing me to break the habit of washing my emotions down with a mindless Instagram scroll. I don’t need the anxiety over what holiday parties I didn’t get invited to, or the articles about all the fun Christmas crafts I will never get around to doing.

I’m making a point to focus on the small things that actually bring me joy.

I looked back on earlier Christmases and tried to remember what I used to love so much about them, and then made a commitment to find my way back to those things. I started small, by winnowing our decorations down to the ones I truly loved; I’ve been watching cheesy Christmas movies for no other reason than just because; I’ve been letting go of the idea of finding “perfect” gifts for everyone on my list and instead getting them things that make me happy to give; I dug into some devotionals and listened to podcasts that nourished my soul.

And this morning, when I woke up early with the baby, I settled in on the couch with my hot cup of coffee. My house was a disaster; I knew there were approximately 15 loads of laundry to do, the living room was trashed from a home project my husband is in the midst of, and I had bathrooms to clean and work to be done. But even there, surrounded by a mess and with no shortage of a “to-do” list to tackle, I had peace in my heart that I haven’t felt in a really, really long time. So I’m happy to report, that unlike my post-baby waistline…

Mama and her Christmas magic are back.

Like what you see? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Chaunie Brusie is an OB nurse turned writer and author of several books. Her work has been published everywhere from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Parents magazine. After two miscarriages, Chaunie founded The Stay Strong Mom, a community of gift boxes for loss mothers, with proceeds donated to families who need help paying their medical bills after a pregnancy loss.