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holiday traditions


A surprising number of moms secretly hate Christmas. Here's how to bring back the joy.

No one talks about the mental and emotional toll of having to make all the holiday magic.


Some moms are done with the holidays long before they start.

The holidays are supposed to be magical, right? Who doesn't love the decked halls, the pretty light displays, the big meals with family, the visits from Santa, the Elf on the Shelf's antics, the cookie exchanges, the caroling, the Nativity pageants, the presents under the tree and all the things that fill the Christmas season with joy and wonder?

A whole host of moms responsible for making all of those things happen, that's who.

This time of year, parenting groups start seeing anonymous posts from overwhelmed moms who admit to hating Christmas because the role of making magic for everyone else in the family has become too much. "I feel terrible for saying it but I've come to loathe the holidays," one mom shares before laying out the laundry list of magic-making to-dos added onto her already full schedule. "Is it normal to start crying in the grocery store because it's all just too much?"

Inevitably, the comments start filling up with others who feel the same way. "This is me." "I totally feel you." "I hate this time of year, too. I just can't wait for it to be over." Cue the shame and guilt of admitting a truth that no one wants to say out loud because who on Earth hates Christmas?

Clearly, this is not how any holiday is supposed to be. How did we get here and how do we fix it?

Don't start off sprinting when you're running a marathon

We'll tackle the "Moms shouldn't have to do it all!" truth in a minute, but first, let's look at the reality we're in. The age of Pinterest and HGTV and social media makes everything look like a perfect magazine spread, and the pressure is always on to up the ante. We want to create these idyllic experiences and memories for our kids, so in the beginning of our parenting journey, we may bite off more than we can reasonably chew over the long haul when it comes to holiday magic.

Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you don't pace yourself early on, you'll burn out. Most of the moms I see complaining about the holidays aren't the ones with little kids; they're the ones with teens who've been at this for a long time, whose families have come to expect certain traditions without recognizing how much work they take. Setting the bar too high from the get go leads to overwhelm down the road. Keep holiday traditions purposefully simple, don't give in to social pressure and remember that countless generations enjoyed the holidays without move an Elf on the Shelf every night.

We all need to intervene in the expectation that moms do it all.

As far as we've come with gender equality, we haven't solved the problem of moms being the "default parent." We've gotten better about things like dividing up household chores, but the mental load of moms still largely goes unrecognized. In some families, this is more of a reality than in others, but statistics show that moms still bear most of the mental load of parenting—making sure kids' clothes fit, keeping track of doctor and dentist appointments, basic well-being responsibilities, and the like. This is true even for moms who work full-time, so adding "making holiday magic" on top of all that feels like just one more thing, even when that one thing seems like it should be fun.

The responsibility for changing that shouldn't all fall on mothers' shoulders. A little more acknowledgment that moms' plates are already full and doing something—anything—to take some things off those plates will go a long way toward making the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.

Moms, you've gotta learn to delegate. For real.

The problem with moms doing it all is that no one else even knows what needs to be done. The invisible work moms do is just that—invisible—unless we make it known. I know a lot of women don't want to complain, but it doesn't even need to be a complaint—just a statement of reality that this is what it takes to make a holiday special and everyone needs to shoulder some of the load.

For some moms, this means learning to let go of some of that Pinterest-driven perfection. Let your kids decorate the house. Let it be imperfect. Start saying no to the parts of holiday planning that don't bring you joy. If the Secret Santa gift exchange at work sounds more stressful than festive, opt out. Delegate Christmas dinner dishes to all family members who are old enough to cook. Tell the family that if they enjoy the holiday traditions, they have to start being responsible for them. The sooner you start spreading out the magic-making, the less stressful the holidays will be and the more prepared your kids will be for adulthood. Win win.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

We live in a world that constantly tells us to do more, have more, be more. But we don't have to. Doing less can feel like going against the grain, but prioritizing what really matters and letting go of expectations we've piled onto ourselves is incredibly freeing. If it feels like too much, it's too much. It's okay for traditions to change. It's okay to let the ones that no longer spark joy to dissolve into just fond memories.

The Christmas season should be a time of joy and family connection—everything else is extra. So decide on a few things that are really important to you and your family, work together to make that special and let the "magic" come from remembering and focusing on what really matters.