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Parent's Corner

Managing the Holidays: Tips to Save Your Sanity This Season

By: Pamela Brill

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but if you're a mom, you may be feeling more stressful than joyful. "Women feel the pressure to 'make the holidays perfect, in addition to wanting to please everyone, which makes it hard for them to manage all the responsibilities during the season,'" explains Daphne Fatter, a licensed psychologist in McKinney, Texas. "Given that women are caregivers for their own families, it's hard not to be pulled in many different directions."

If this sounds like a familiar scenario, you don't need to grin and bear it. By adapting a new outlook, giving yourself the permission to say 'no' once in a while and penciling in some quiet time, you can survive the holidays and enjoy yourself. Consider the following expert advice, and you might actually look forward to December next year.

Hectic Ho-Ho-Ho

Sure, we know how it goes: As soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers have been polished off, it seems like the world shifts into high-gear holiday mode. So, if it's the same routine year after year, why do resort to the same craziness again and again? According to Dr. Sarah Allen (www.drsarahallen.com), a psychologist practicing in North Brook, Ill., it has a lot to do with our desire to recreate our childhood memories for our own families. "I think it is important to remember that you are looking back with the rose-tinted glasses of childhood where things were done for you," she reminds us. "You probably only remember the delicious holiday meal—not the frantic shopping and cooking that happened to get it on the table."

Even if your childhood wasn't all sugar and spice, it only takes a glance at your Facebook feed or a quick leaf through your favorite magazine to long for something equally picturesque. "We want to create memories and perfection," says Gayle Gruenberg of Let's Get Organized (www.LGOrganized.com). "The media plays a big part in setting those expectations; magazines, TV, the Internet (especially Pinterest and Facebook) make it seem like everyone other than us are having the picture-perfect holiday."

So, with all the family and work-related obligations that consume us during the month of December, how can moms pick and choose what's important, without feeling that they are letting someone down? Fatter recommends setting personal boundaries for yourself. "Remind yourself that you have a choice in what you do during the holidays," she advises.

When given an invitation in person or asked to pitch in for a school or job function, don't feel compelled to answer right on the spot. "We feel more pressure to please when the person asking is right in front of you," notes Allen. "By stepping away and really seeing how much time you have free can give you the distance and perspective to evaluate your own needs."

Once you've decided what you and your family can manage, Gruenberg suggests plotting everything out on a calendar, preferably in different colors for family members or categories, such as work, family, school, etc. "Having everything laid out in one place makes it easy to see the conflicts," she says.

Give Up the Guilt

Mom guilt is nothing new, and yet it comes on strong, especially during the holidays when everyone's happiness remains our top priority. As difficult as it may be, the experts say that the best gift you can give yourself this season is some slack. "The holidays are a good opportunity to practice self-compassion," says Fatter. "Remind yourself that you are doing 'enough,' and be flexible with your own expectations of yourself." She recommends carving out some time each day—a few minutes—strictly for yourself. "Even if it's five minutes before bed, it can help you re-charge and also reflect on your own enjoyment of the holiday season."

Holidays are also a time when self-preservation gets put on the back burner; experts say this is a huge no-no and can only end up sabotaging all your efforts. "Don't ignore the basics: get enough sleep and eat food that leaves you feeling good," says Allen. "If you don't look after yourself, you won't have the reserves to take care of other people."

Speaking of other people, even well-meaning family and friends can get the best of us this season. Before you reach your personal breaking point (no judging; everyone has their own limitations), seek out a neutral person to air your grievances. "It's important to vent and not just simmer about whatever it is that has frustrated you, but pick the right person," she adds. "Your partner may be great hearing about how your mom is so frustrating, but not so great if you are criticizing his mom."

In the end, you may still feel like you are disappointing your neighbor for declining her cookie swap invite or skipping the local holiday house tour this year. But as the experts say, sometimes that's just part of life. "I think we get to the point in our lives when we pick up our big girl pants and feel what we feel," says Gruenberg, adding that this is a lesson for kids to learn too. "Life comes with disappointments; not everything goes our way. Learning how to handle disappointment will help a child become resilient so he or she can be prepared to handle bigger challenges later in life."

Until then, figure out what traditions work for you and your family this year and savor the wonders of the season. After all, there's always next year to change things up again.

Happy Holidays!