The holidays are incredibly challenging for moms because of the enormous pressure to do everything for everyone, and on top of that, it better be magical. From hosting to gift giving to planning to everything in between, moms everywhere know what it’s like to want to “do a good job” while at the same time prioritize the meaning of the season, yet not have enough time for half of it. In this episode, you’ll learn real strategies for overcoming holiday planning, overwhelm, and stress so that even you—as mom—can experience joy this holiday season.

If you’re a mom, you’re in the right place. This is a space designed to help you overcome challenges and live your best life. I’d love for you to join me inside Mom On Purpose Membership, my coaching community for moms where we take this work to the next level.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Show Resources:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the Design Your Dream Life podcast, where it’s all about helping moms live their best lives. My hope with this podcast is you’re more inspired to become the mom you are made to be. I’m Natalie, your host, a wife, boy, mom, dog lover, Chicagoan, and former lawyer turned professionally certified coach. If you’re here to grow, I can help. Let’s go.

What’s happening, my friend? Welcome to the podcast. I’m so happy to be here with you. Today we have another episode brought to you by Henry Boy. I am wearing him, so if you hear any cooing, that’s what’s going on. He has been loving, napping on me and I’m here for it. I know these days are numbered, so, um, sometimes he’s with me. While I am working. Today, I wanna talk with you about holiday planning, overwhelm and stress. We are headed into the holiday season for some of us, it’s kind of already started and underway and I was thinking about how it is so overwhelming and stressful on default, and it doesn’t have to be.

I have tools that can really help you eliminate or at least significantly reduce that annual overwhelm and stress that we as moms and women feel around the holidays. Before we dive in, I wanna make sure that you are gonna join me for Secrets To A Happy Marriage. This is the new workshop that I am hosting. You can get all of the information over at Okay, now let’s dive into today’s topic. Holiday Planning, Overwhelm, and Stress. What makes the holidays so dang hard for us as moms, I think it’s a number of things, but in particular, I think there’s this mindset that we have to do everything for everyone always. And for many of us, we are the default parent for the holidays, for all of the planning and preparing. And that means that we have high expectations for ourselves to create this picture perfect holiday experience from decorations to hosting, to gift giving to parties, to school events, to you name it.

And those expectations can kind of be fueled by perfectionism, which can lead to things like financial strain or even stress on your relationships or thinking about it in a really rigid way without any flexibility. I think that this ultimately, not surprisingly, leads to reduced enjoyment. A lot of comparison, inadequacy that negative self-talk like whatever you’re doing isn’t enough, and always questioning if it’s enough, so then you’re maybe overdoing it. You’re just buying more to try to fill that, um, that insecurity, which of course never works. And I have definitely been there before, particularly with gift giving. I think this leads a lot to just feeling exhausted. And I think that not only does it negatively impact us individually, but then it has that ripple effect of having an impact on our families. And of course, we don’t intend for it to happen like that, but I think so often it does on default because, you know, we live in a western culture with, you know, consumerism.

And before you know it, you can be comparing yourself to everyone trying to make sure that you provide the best experience. And that just leads to feeling like you’re never doing a good enough job and oftentimes never giving yourself permission to rest or take a break. And I think that when it’s never good enough, when you’re not resting or taking a break, and when you’re comparing yourself to others, it just is a recipe for kind of robbing you of the joy that can be present during the holiday season. And we talk about the magic of the season and, and wanting to find moments of joy and all of that. And I think we talk about it out of the moment, but what I really want to provide with you here today are some tools that can help you actually experience more joy, more ease, and just a sense of contentment during the holidays.

So in my family, not only do we celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve and New Year’s and the typical holidays, but on top of that, Steve, my husband, his birthday is in the middle of December, and then my first son’s birthday is at the end of December. So for me, the month of December is very full of important, significant events that I want to celebrate and that I choose to celebrate. So on default, my brain goes into overwhelm and stress thinking I need to be everyone, for everyone always, and do everything for them and make it really special and nothing’s good enough. And that’s sort of like the default that my brain goes to and I, I really want to overcompensate for that. And so then I’m doing a lot more and it’s not necessarily, you know, making the impact that I want it to. And then I’m not feeling joy and ease. I’m feeling stress and it just isn’t an enjoyable experience. So over the years I have come up with strategies and tools and some tips that have really helped me navigate the season regardless of the year. So some years we travel for Thanksgiving, for example, and other years we don’t. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving.

So, um, it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying or whether you’re going or whether each year is a little bit different, these tools are applicable regardless of the circumstances. So if you are celebrating the holidays this season, as most of you will be, whatever those holidays are, I want you to consider the benefits of these tools that I’m going to offer to you because they have been life changing for me. Okay, so let’s get started.

Number one is kind of my favorite. It’s kind of a mind trip. It’s to quit all of it in your mind. So tell yourself you don’t have to do any of it. You don’t have to do the hosting, the cleaning, the cooking, the gift buying, the celebrating, any of it, the the holiday cards, none of it. You don’t have to do any of it. Quit all of that in your mind and then add back only what you want to do. So for me, it sounds like okay, I am not going to get gifts for anyone. I’m not going to host, I’m not going to clean. I’m not going to, um, celebrate my husband’s nor my son’s birthdays. I’m not going to do any of it. And I just remind myself from that mental place that I don’t have to do any of it. I really don’t have to. And it’s so important that you notice the language when you say you have to do something. A lot have to implies that you’re being forced to and it feels very restrictive. So what I like to remind myself of is that I don’t have to do any of it. I really don’t. No one is here forcing me to do it. I do it because I want to. So then I add back what I want to do and I give myself permission to change from what I’ve done in the past. So just because I’ve sent Christmas cards in the past doesn’t mean I have to do it every year. Just because we’ve done matching holiday pajamas in the past doesn’t mean we have to do it this year. So one by one, slowly but surely about mid-fall, I start asking myself, what do I want this holiday season to look like? And I quit all of it in my mind and I slowly add back what I want to add back.

And this leads perfectly into number two, which is to be clear on your values and what you want to get out of the holiday season. If you are particularly religious and God and or Christianity or whatever religion that you celebrate is important to you during this season, making that a priority in your quote unquote to-dos is really important because then at the end of the season, you won’t have regret or think that you didn’t bring enough meaning to the season. If that is really important to you, you wanna make sure that your, to-dos your calendar, what you’re actually doing as a family reflects how important that is. So often I think we can get tied up into the consumerism without remembering what’s important to us and and kind of deciding ahead of time what do we value? Do we value a lot of quality time together as a family? Do we want to put on our calendar some of those kind of fun holiday events We just went to, um, kind of like a pumpkin farm last month in October.

That was one that we love to do that a family and we’re gonna be doing some more for Christmas as well coming up and seeing lights and just kind of reminding yourself that what you value, quality time together, whether it’s your religion or something else, is what’s most important. It’s more important than your kids getting the gift that they want. And I know that this sounds true when I articulate it, but how many of you listening and I’m guilty of this myself, don’t act that way. I act as if I need to get the exact right gifts for everyone or else the holidays will be horrible. That’s sort of like the default mindset that my brain goes to. So really just being clear about what you value and what you want to get out of this season.

Okay, number three, get organized. Write down. I use a Google Doc, but you can use whatever you want, all of the things. So I say all of the things because it’s going to vary. So on my Google Doc I have categories for the main events. So I have categories for my husband’s birthday, I have categories for my son’s birthday, I have categories for um, Thanksgiving and for Christmas. And kind of the um, subcategories in each of those include decorations and gifts and activities that we’re gonna do and maybe a shopping list. So particularly for Thanksgiving that way the night before, the week before, I’m not sort of scrambling thinking about what to put on that list. I think this is kind of like the key to my success so that I don’t feel overwhelmed because anytime that I’m trying to keep track of things in my brain, I feel overwhelmed because I’m thinking, am I forgetting something?

I don’t wanna forget something. So then I consistently have to repeat in my mind what it is that I wanna remember by putting things out on paper or digitally I get it out of my brain and I’m telling my brain, Hey, you don’t have to remember this anymore. So to be honest, I have no idea what I got my husband, son, or rest of the family for their birthdays and Christmas. But I know that it’s done because I know that I put it in these specific categories. Now I know generally what I got, but I don’t remember, which is for what. And that is the power of using my Google Doc and writing it down this way I don’t need to remember. And then of course for extended family as well, I have a different doc for that where I put, um, the gifts that we are going to be giving and then the activities and um, anything else that I want to remember. So there’s no right or wrong. The key is to just take whatever you find your brain trying to remember onto paper so that you don’t make your brain in charge of remembering it. We don’t want to use our brain for things like this. We wanna use our brain for more powerful things, more important things than lists.

Okay, so next number four. This is so good. Let other people feel how they want to feel. So a lot of times when we host, we think that what makes us a good host is if everyone had a good time. And I don’t know that we always say this outright, at least I don’t, but it’s sort of implied, I think, okay, I just want everyone to have a good time. I just want everyone to have a good experience. And that sounds like such a lovely thought, but it’s not.

It’s a terrible thought because I can’t control it. So of course it would be nice if everyone has a good time, but that’s not the main thought that I wanna think because if I have that mindset, I’m gonna be weird and needy and creepy and trying to control everyone’s emotions. So if someone shows up upset or if someone shows up and they have a negative attitude, if I have the mindset I need everyone to have a good time in order for this to be a success, then I’m going to be trying to fix their mindset. They don’t want their mindset fixed. Someone who’s being negative wants to be negative. So this can be really, really powerful if you are um, a mom of of kids, particularly like little kids who you’re not really sure what kind of mood they’re gonna be in on the day of a holiday, letting people feel exactly how they wanna feel.

I’ve used a potluck analogy to this before. You may have heard me talk about this, I talk about this in Grow You think of whether you’re hosting or attending an event as a potluck, a potluck of emotions. Everyone gets to bring whatever they want to the potluck, whatever dish they want. You might be bringing cherry pie. Someone else might be bringing lima beans, gross. Who likes lima beans? Any of y’all? I do not like lima beans, so I would love some cherry pie. That sounds amazing. But everyone doesn’t need to bring cherry pie. If someone else brings lima beans, it’s totally fine. I don’t have to enjoy the lima beans, I don’t have to eat the lima beans. They’re just there. Not a problem. Think about emotions in the same way you get to bring happiness and joy. To me that is cherry pie.

If someone else brings stress that is the lima beans, that’s okay. They can feel stressed. We don’t have to fix their stress. We don’t have to give ’em a hard time for bringing stress to the party. We don’t have to tell them that they’re wrong or try to get them to feel better or try to talk them outta their emotions or try to help in the kitchen so they don’t feel stressed. Now we can offer help because that’s the kind of happy person we are and want to be because we brought cherry pie, but not because we’re trying to fix their emotions. There’s a huge difference. So if you just think about every single person has thought models running in their minds, they have thoughts that they’re thinking, they have feelings that they are feeling and they have actions that they are taking that are driven from their thoughts and feelings.

So it is not ever our job to fix or change someone else’s thoughts and feelings. This comes up so often during the holidays. I actually did a class last year that’s inside Grow You in the library that you get access to right when you join on navigating challenging relationships. And I did it during this time last year on purpose because of the specific challenges of the holidays. When we all get together with lots of family, there’s bound to be different types of people and we all have families with lots of people who have different ways of navigating the world. And it’s not a problem until we make it a problem. So notice if you are thinking that everyone should be happy, that no one should be stressed, that everyone should feel a certain way and just shift your mindset to thinking about it like a potluck.

Everyone is going to this potluck and everyone can bring whatever feeling they want to feel. So instead of thinking, I just want everyone to be happy and I just want everyone to have a good time, one of my favorite thoughts to go to that I suggest using if you want to feel more ease and joy when you’re hosting or attending events, is I want everyone to feel exactly how they want to feel. They’re already going to, but this puts you in such a better place, a better feeling place because you won’t be trying to fix or change their emotions. You’ll be totally in acceptance of whatever feelings they want.

Number five, focus on experiences over material things. I get that this is kind of the stereotypical overheard advice, but to me it’s still really valuable because I think I like gifts and I like material things and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. So our family gives gifts to each other and we give gifts to extended family. And I just think it feels so good to give, but I can specifically focus too much on that I think over experiences and I never regret experiences. Even if, you know, toddler is, is having a a meltdown or a tantrum, that’s okay. I’m still never in the place of regretting that I did them. I’m still so glad that I did them even, you know, on the day of when we’re preparing to go and get out the door, it’s challenging. Um, I still am so glad. I think back to the pumpkin farm and we have those memories and those photos and even though it was kind of a lot to get everyone ready and out the door and, and all the things take care of the dogs and it’s the extra work, but they’re so valuable and important to, to me and to our family. And so just a reminder to ask yourself, what experiences do you want to create for your family this season? ’cause we often think about, okay, what gifts do we wanna give each other or to your kids or whatever. But remembering to ask yourself about what experiences do you want to create?

Okay, number six, allow your kids to feel however they want to feel with respect to the gifts that they receive. Now this is something that you might even teach them ahead of time. Something like, it’s okay if you get gifts that you don’t really like and it’s okay to feel disappointed. You can feel disappointed and still feel appreciative that someone got you a gift and depending on their age, you can go more into this or not. So the idea is that you’re going to teach them how to live in the, and this isn’t exactly what I wanted and I’m grateful that I got a gift.

I feel appreciative and it’s not my favorite thing. So often we want to kind of cover up any disappointment and think that our kids should just like whatever they get. And I am not in that camp because if you think about for yourself when you get a gift that you don’t like, you don’t like the gift internally that’s still there no matter what, you don’t change that just because you’re appreciative. So allowing space for two things can be true, can be very helpful. And what you can even do, particularly if they’re younger kids, is to talk with them about how they might handle that on the day of. It could be with your immediate family if you have a big family or you might talk with them ahead of time about how they might handle it. If you’re going to an extended family’s gift exchange. So let’s say that you have kids who are school aged and you’re going to the grandparents’ house with all the cousins and there’s gonna be gifts there. So out of the moment, ahead of time you might talk with your kids about how they can receive gifts that they may or may not like. So if they like them, they’re probably gonna be excited and naturally it will run its course exactly how it’s supposed to. But if they don’t like the gift, kind of talk with them about how they might express that and how they might not express that in what ways are appropriate and not appropriate. So you might teach them that it’s good etiquette to say thankful and feel very appreciative of gifts, even if you’re also inside feeling a little bit of disappointment and how it’s okay to feel disappointed about getting a gift that you didn’t really want, but you can still say thank you and have a good time instead of trying to kind of pretend that our kids are going to have the perfect experience and not experience any disappointment. I think normalizing disappointment is the way to go.

Number seven, ask for help when you can. I think there is this sort of idea that because we’re mom, we’re supposed to coordinate and plan and send invites and do the holiday cards and cook and, um, coordinate just everything for the holidays. And I don’t think that’s useful. So asking for help can be your lifeline, whether it’s your spouse, whether it’s hiring help, whether it’s childcare, whether it’s, um, people who are coming over and you ask them to bring a dish or help in some way. Whatever you want to do, do that because I think that putting it all on you doesn’t lead to, um, you creating the actual experience that you want to create. It leads to more stress and overwhelm.

The next one is to let it be easy. Make it easy when you can. So for example, if you are someone who wants to cook everything like I am, but you find that having two kids under two is going to create a more challenging environment for you to cook and host for 10 people and take care of your kids, then cater it, right? This is a perfect example of where for me at least, I have so much hesitation around it, and yet I know that if I visualize on the day of what that experience will be like, I’ll be so glad that I catered and I can cook and host at another event when my kids are a little bit older and I can still make it special and loving and warm even if the food is catered. And so just reminding yourself to make it easy when you can, can be so, so very helpful.

Number eight, take care of yourself. I was just talking with my girlfriend and she was so stressed and so overwhelmed and I just asked her, what are you doing to take care of yourself? And she was like, oh my gosh, pretty much nothing. Another way to say this is to prioritize your self care. I hesitate to say it that way because I know if you’re like me, it sounds like yeah, yeah, I know I’ll get to that. I know it’s important. But when you really ask yourself, at least when I ask myself, who’s taking care of me? What do I need right now? What are my unmet needs and how can I meet them? Those questions are so useful and I get a much more empowered response when I ask it that way instead of just simply telling myself I need more self-care. So check in with yourself. Who takes care of mom? Who takes care of you? And how are you gonna make sure that you take care of yourself during this season? It might be exercising water, sleep, mindset work, self-coaching. These are all sort of my basics that when I remind myself to do I feel so much better when I exercise, stretch, drink more water, sleep, and coach myself, I feel so much better. So as we’re heading into the season and it’s already kind of started, these are things that I am 100% prioritizing.

Number nine, stress management. Make sure you understand the difference between stuck stress and growth. Stress. Make sure you understand how to process your emotions. So two quick tips on that. I shared on Instagram, move your body number one and release the stress by yelling or screaming. Now, I prefer to do this in a very, um, safe space such as my closet or screaming into a pillow or something like that. But when you are feeling stress, a lot of times releasing it in a way of just movement or screaming can be very powerful.

Number 10, drop the perfectionism. Perfectionism can make it so much harder to navigate the holidays because it sets unrealistic and often unobtainable standards for the holiday experience. So what are you willing to let go of? What can you allow to be a little bit imperfect and a little bit of a mess? That I think is a really helpful way for me to think about it because otherwise I think it can always be better. And the truth is it can’t. But at what expense? At my emotional expense, if I am working around the clock to make it the most perfect holiday experience, then I am not going to be rested. I’m not going to be able to feel joy. I’m not going to be able to soak in the moments and feel connected to my family. And so there’s a really high cost to making things “perfect”. Okay, the last tip I have for you is to define what success is ahead of time. So what does it mean to do a good job hosting Thanksgiving? What does it mean to have a successful holiday season to you? What does it mean to have that Christmas day go well? And base your answer on things you can control. Do not base it on your kids’ happiness. Do not base it on whether they are excited about the gifts they got. Do not base it on your husband’s appreciation. Do not base it on how clean your house is or how well you decorate it. Do not base it on other people’s praise or approval. None of these things are within your control, so if you base your success on them, you’ll be constantly chasing validation that will never be enough.

So instead, define what success means to you ahead of time. You can just write it out. Success means that you coach yourself to show up with a positive attitude. Success means that you host Thanksgiving and you show up as the woman you want to be. Success means that you create three, you know, outing experiences for your immediate family. Success means, you know, fill in the blank, whatever you want success to be, just based on things you can control and remember, what you can control is how you think, how you feel, and what you do. Everything outside of you, your kids’ happiness, their approval or disapproval of the gifts they receive. Your husband’s appreciation, whether other people approve of and give you praise for your efforts. None of these are within your control. So instead of focusing on them to determine your success, define success for yourself. Tell yourself what you want for this holiday season and then validate yourself. Tell yourself you’re doing a good job because you are. And give yourself permission to feel joy, connection, and love all throughout the holiday season, regardless of the circumstances that my friend will lead to you feeling less overwhelm and less stress during this holiday season. Wishing you a very happy holidays, my friend. Take care.

Thank you for being here and listening Now, head on over to to learn more about Grow You, my membership for moms, where we take all this work to the next level.

Enjoy the show?