Hack Holiday Stress, Skip Burnout and Enjoy the Season with Your Kids

Children making cutout cookies for the holidays

The holidays are full of magic and wonder. The sights, the sounds, the flavors, the traditions, the giving, the special photos, the lights, the decorations, the memories.

They’re beautiful. Magical. And a whole lot of work. A whole lot of work that can lead to burnout and ba-humbug grinchyness. Otherwise known as the dreaded holiday stress.

Because behind the magic and wonder are the expectations, the pressure, the scheduling juggling-act, the lack of sleep, the financial stress, the miles-long to-do list, the overtired kids having melt-downs and their sleep deprived parents trying to keep it all together. After all, someone had to put up those decorations, coordinate the photo shoot, and make the memories.

And we all know who that usually is.


While everyone else revels in the specialness of the season, savoring their favorite cookies and special dishes, feeling warmed by the glow of festive decorations that transform the ordinary into the enchanted, celebrating the magical moments of memorable events that set the season apart, it is often moms who make it all happen.

Overhead view of a woman with a neatly wrapped gift in her lapOverhead view of a woman with a neatly wrapped gift in her lap

From the annual holiday photos and seasonal greeting cards, the baked goods and treasured main dishes, the gift giving traditions and festive gatherings, to the planning and decorating, budgeting and shopping, organizing and managing schedules. It’s magic for everyone else that these things *just happen* but moms have more work and bear the bulk of the emotional labor that goes into making that magic “just” happen.

The Reality of Holiday Stress

For many of us moms, the holidays are really anything but magic. Often, the season is just more stressful, overwhelming, and draining for those who are behind the magic in the first place.

This is something I hear a lot from my friends and my coaching clients. The holidays bring a sense of dread with them, the end of year burden of expectations. We lose sleep over it and long for the cold, still days of January. 

I’ve found this to be true for myself as well. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, I don’t want feelings to be hurt. And, above all, I don’t want a sense of sadness to replace the wonder and the connection of the season. Oh, and I also want some of that wonder and connection myself.

And sometimes, what I really want is to actually not be so connected. To really get to rest.

When it comes to the holidays, moms are tired.

Not Coping With Holiday Stress Well?

You’re not alone. It didn’t take long for me to refuse to be the sole magic maker for the season for my family, bearing the burden to make everything magically perfect. I worked a job that was high pressure and intense around the holidays, I made the magic happen for thousands as part of my career and I realized that to survive, I had to let some things go. 

Doing so was freeing but also felt like failure on my part. I stressed about what my children were missing out on since I didn’t make gingerbread houses from scratch for them to decorate or host a Christmas caroling sing-a-long event like my parents had every year. My holiday wish list every year contained one item: survive.

That wasn’t enough though, I wanted to move from surviving to thriving. Not just dragging myself through the holidays with resentment, desperate for a nap; but to actually enjoy the time with my family. 

Family laughing and sharing a holiday meal around the table Family laughing and sharing a holiday meal around the table

A friend mentioned the importance of self-care during the holidays and I scoffed. Who has the time? Besides, I was the kind of burnt out that a bubble bath, glass of wine, and manicure weren’t going to fix. I needed something far more impactful than a girls night out or an evening on my own (which, let’s just admit it, I’d use to shop or wrap gifts anyway and that is NOT self-care for me).

It took about 3 years but I finally found myself enjoying the holidays again, seeing magic happen that I didn’t create. The process was more challenging than I expected but here’s what moved me from surviving to thriving during the holidays. 

I had to realize less IS more. Rested is magical. Connected is meaningful. Our children, our families shouldn’t miss out on having a mom who is able to connect and enjoy the moment with them simply because she’s burnt out trying to make the already magical season more enchanted. They want you more.

Holiday Hacks to Manage Holiday Stress and Enjoy the Season

I know the shift from sole magic maker to happy, healthy participant might sound impossible. But managing holiday stress isn’t as overwhelming as you might think … if you break it down into manageable changes.

1. Set Your Own Timetable

If you love holiday decorations but are stressed by the process and timing, pick a timetable that works for you. Who cares if you’re decorating “too early?” It’s your life and your schedule. 

I used to be a staunch “Christmas after Thanksgiving” person but sometimes we just don’t have the time to make it happen in that time frame. Decorating early ends up being lower stress because there isn’t as much going on for our family leading up to Thanksgiving. Setting our own timetable lowers our stress and the more relaxed process allows me to enjoy the magic a little more, too. And, same goes for any cooking, baking, shopping, gifting, and planning.

2. Be Like Elsa – Let it Go

I wrote out a list of all the activities I made happen during the holidays from family photos to setting up visits and calls with family, to parties, baking, homemade gifts, Christmas light looking, shopping, etc. Then I circled the things that I really enjoyed and one for each of my children and partner. 

Next I crossed off the activities that stressed us all out. For any that gave me pause because someone else may be hurt if we no longer did the activity, I made a star by it to come back later to troubleshoot with my family and the person that would be hurt. I let go of anything that didn’t bring me or my family joy and I was surprised by how much we could cut out and how much financial stress lifted by doing so.

Woman's hand writing a list with a mug, candle and holiday decorations next to herWoman's hand writing a list with a mug, candle and holiday decorations next to her

3. Modify

Some of the items with stars by them didn’t come off our list but they were modified. Along with cutting back, we changed some of the how. Online shopping that I can do once the kids are in bed as I relax with a piece of leftover Thanksgiving pie takes a lot of the stress away while still honoring those traditions that mean a lot to us. 

Half-way homemade is a theme for us during the holidays, too, and store bought cookies are a lifesaver sometimes. As much as I enjoy cooking and crafting from scratch, shortcuts that mean I can be more present and enjoy the season more are worth it.

4. Delegate

Whether you hire someone else to do it or recruit a family member to volunteer, get things off your plate by putting it on the plates of those that have more room. Many hands make light work and all that. Will it be done just how you would do it? Probably not. But someone else will get the pride and sense of accomplishment of having done it themselves. 

If you have a partner, have a home date night and divide up the holiday responsibilities and then, trust them to do it. Get the kids involved too. This year, through fighting and two store runs to get more lights, my 9- and 11-year-olds nailed the lighting of the tree and I’m pretty picky about how I like the lights on our tree. They totally got it and the tree is stunning. I showed them how I do it, they received some coaching from Daddy, and the rest was all on them. Our 8 foot tree positively shines but the real light came from their faces when I told them I loved it.

Child in pajamas arranging lights on a Christmas tree Child in pajamas arranging lights on a Christmas tree

5. Adjust Expectations

For something to feel magical we often think it has to be perfect but who defines perfect anyway? Be realistic about not only what you can do but what you should do as well as what your family can handle. Overscheduling a 3-year-old can quickly turn a magical experience into the Nightmare Before Christmas. “Perfect” may change every year, that’s OK.

6. Step Away From Social Media

As wonderful and as connecting as social media can be, it can also quickly become a place that moves from inspiration to comparison that can drain and discourage you. It’s easy for the highlight reel that others and brands present to feel like everyone else is living a more enchanted, lower stress life than you. 

Instead, use that social media time to do something that actually restores you. Maybe that’s watching a Christmas movie with your family, taking a nap, getting some cleaning done that you’ve been avoiding (I always feel better if I make a substantial dent in Mt. Laundry), dealing with some stressful bills, or yes, even a bubble bath and a glass of wine and a manicure. 

Child wearing pajamas and a hat, drinking hot cocoa outside Child wearing pajamas and a hat, drinking hot cocoa outside

7. Schedule Breaks

Time to chill. Have more down time than go time on your schedule and protect it. For you and for the whole family. Some of our favorite traditions and memories are the least involved. Watching a Christmas movie, playing certain holiday music, drinking hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree, reading a Christmas story every day. Those get talked about more than visiting Santa, going shopping, having a fancy meal, seeing the Nutcracker, etc.

8. Protect Sleep

Yours and theirs. This goes for adults and kids. A few late nights here and there aren’t a problem but consistently getting too little sleep wears down our emotional, mental, and physical health. Everything is bigger and more overwhelming when you’re tired. Meltdowns are more likely. Emotional outbursts inevitable. Our body’s defenses are weakened when we’re not getting enough sleep and we’re more likely to get sick, making us even more burned out if we try to muscle our way through sickness on top of already being exhausted.

Finding ways to move from surviving to thriving this holiday season depends on each individual and requires self-care. Do what restores you and let the rest go. Actually enjoy the magic of the season instead of being burnt out as the only one that makes it happen.

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer, speaker and relationship and parenting coach, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of wereallhumanhere.com, freelance writer and mom. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 8 daughters with her husband of 25 years.