Holiday Survival Strategies for People Pleasing, Perfectionist Moms

While the holidays can be filled with magic and merry, they can also be fraught with overtired, whiney kids {and adults} who are constantly on the verge of a meltdown. So, what can we do about it? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few internal permission slips I grant myself. I hope that these holiday survival strategies may be helpful to you too.

I am allowed to change my mind.

woman and girl in Santa hats admiring a red Christmas ball ornamentJust because we’ve always done something one way, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever. Different seasons of life, and parenting, may allow for more or less participation in holiday events and traditions than others. Flexibility is not always a strength us people pleasing, perfectionist types possess. However, if we can give ourselves permission to be less rigid, the holidays can feel more enjoyable and relaxed.

Maybe you’re in the newborn or toddler season and not interested in traveling from Katy to the Woodlands, let alone out of state. Pick one spot to land, or just stay home! Perhaps you can find an alternate, less hectic time to celebrate together. Celebrating does not have to be tied to a specific date on our calendar. Our family tends to celebrate with one side on the actual holiday date, another side a day or two later and others later in the holiday month. This works for us- find what works for you.  

Perhaps your family is in a season of financial hardship, and you’re not interested in participating in the costly gift exchange traditions of years past. Suggest another option. Agree to an exchange of only handmade gifts. Pick an affordable experience to enjoy together instead. Picnic in a favorite Houston park + a free holiday light tour through your neighborhood anyone? Set a price range everyone can agree to and stick to it. Or draw names to limit the number of loved ones you feel obligated to shop for. Whatever you do, please don’t commit to something that’s going to drive you into debt, just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Maybe you’re in a season of grief, and doing things the same as they’ve always been done feels too hard. Consider what might feel more tolerable, and do that. Maybe you want to honor the loved one you lost in a meaningful way. Or you would like to just skip the holiday traditions and fanfare all together. Permission granted. Perhaps you want to surround yourself with family and friends and follow through with all of the traditions as usual. You can do that too. Lean into what feels most right to you. There is no rule book for how to grieve well. You are allowed to try things out and change your mind as you go.

I will never make everyone happy, all of the time.

family gathered around a menorahBut I can make someone happy, including myself, some of the time. People pleasing, perfectionist types tend to worry a lot about what others think of us. We want to be perceived as kind, generous, loving and like we have it all together. Most of us hate conflict. And we often try too hard to please others, even if it means sacrificing our own needs.

The problem is, despite our cool, calm, and collected outward facing selves, we are vulnerable, messy humans on the inside. If we don’t prioritize what we need at least some of the time, we risk burnout. If we burn ourselves out, we may end up spending the holidays feeling cranky, exhausted and drained. We have real, valid needs of our own that must be met sometimes too. And in our families, we tend to be the ones most equipped to do the meeting.

So, consider what’s most important to you, and your family, and prioritize those things. Maybe you have a partner or a child who is an avid holiday light lover. Or someone who doesn’t feel like it’s the holidays without a trip to the Nutcracker {Market or ballet}. Attending a special church service might be number one on your list. I always insist on making time in our busy holiday calendar to bake Christmas cookies.

In our family, doing this well feels like we all get something we really want, but no one gets everything they want. It might be impossible to check off every single thing on everyone’s holiday “to-do” list. But it may be manageable to check off everyone’s number one.

I can set boundaries without being a jerk.

family of four celebrating Diwali holding lit candlesAlright, fellow people pleasing, perfectionist mamas. Repeat after me. I do not have to justify the boundaries I set. And I am not responsible for other people’s reactions to my boundaries.

Often, in an attempt to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or disappointing the people we love, we will say yes to everything asked of us. Even if it means we’re physically and emotionally depleted when it’s all said and done. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume we don’t want our children to do this to themselves when they’re adults. We don’t celebrate or condone these actions in our friends. And thus, we should stop accepting this self-sacrificing behavior in ourselves.

So how do we stop? We may need to clarify some expectations, set some boundaries or change our minds about some of the things we have {over} committed to.

When it comes to boundary setting during the holidays, it’s helpful to communicate early and often. This year’s festivities are not too soon to communicate changes you plan to implement next year.

We can invite others into the priority setting exercise described above. For example, if your beloved mom or mother in law traditionally invites {or expects} you to participate in no less than 15 holiday gatherings each year, consider inviting her to name the top one or two activities that are most important to her. Maybe we can commit to attending the treasured church service and a cookie exchange and politely decline to participate in the rest.

Remember, you are not responsible for her reaction to this boundary. This is not about her. This is about you protecting your peace of mind. This is about you making changes that will allow you and your family to enjoy the holidays instead of dread them.

One size does not fit all.

These holiday survival strategies are suggestions intended to be permissive, not prescriptive. As we head into another holiday season, I hope you feel encouraged to change your mind as needed, to make yourself a priority and to set boundaries in ways that bring you freedom from the pressure of other people’s expectations.


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