5 Ways Parents Can Avoid Holiday Burnout this Season

by Katelyn Denning November 17, 2023

couple sitting on the table by christmas tree

The holiday season brings up a lot of feelings for everyone. Whether excitement and joy, grief and loneliness, or anything and everything in between, it’s a time of year where we feel a lot. 

For parents, in addition to that mixed bag of feelings, there’s also a layer of stress, overwhelm, or exhaustion, because when you have kids, the holidays are no longer about just experiencing the season; they’re also about orchestrating the season

You’re now the one creating the memories, the joy, and the magic that you want for your kids. But that “magic” takes a lot of work. Work that you willingly take on in addition to regular, everyday responsibilities. So not only are you still grocery shopping, folding laundry, doing bedtime routine, and showing up for work, you’re also ordering holiday cards and wrapping paper, coordinating schedules with family, baking cookies, and going to see holiday lights and performances.

No wonder most parents no longer find magic in the season. It’s enough to make you look forward to the new year more than anything else because at least the new year means the end of a frantic and exhausting season and getting back to work, school, and regularly scheduled programming.

But what if it’s possible to be the orchestrator of the season while still slowing down enough to enjoy it? To create memories and experiences but not at the expense of your sanity, your energy, and your well-being? 

The holiday we experienced during the pandemic changed everything for me. I saw what it was like to have a truly slow season where our immediate family of five was the top priority and my energy was always taken into consideration. We started new traditions that were more about the experience and feeling of the season and less about the doing and receiving. We slowed down. We were lazy. And the holidays were less stressful than ever before. 

As I think about how to combine the excitement and options that we have today with the feeling of that slow and quiet year, there are 5 key things that will make all the difference in helping you orchestrate a beautiful holiday season for your family without burning out:

Pause first 

Before you jump into your to-do list and your calendar, pause long enough to envision the coming season. What do you want this season to feel like? What experiences or activities are non-negotiable for you or for your family (be sure to ask them!)? What memories do you want to try to create? With so much to do, it may feel counterintuitive to take this time for reflection and intention when you could be crossing things off the list, but without some sort of vision, how will you decide what to say yes to and what to say no to? Knowing your priorities for the season makes it faster and easier to make decisions down the road.

Use the word ‘could’

When creating your schedule and to-do list for the season, use the word ‘could’ wherever possible. You ‘could’ go to that event. You ‘could’ say yes to that invitation. You ‘could’ send a holiday card. This leaves the door open to possibilities or to doing things differently. Some things may feel like things that you have to do or that you should do, but if you can think about all things as optional, you create the space to choose what you want intentionally . Just because you’ve done something a certain way before, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing things that way. Could is the invitation to see everything as optional and to choose according to the vision you set when you paused.

Make sure it fits

The holiday season comes with one epic to-do list. But without an idea, even tentatively, of when you’ll do things and where they fit on the calendar, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment when you realize you don’t have time for it all or that the only way to do it all is to sacrifice sleep or quality time with your family. So set your expectations accordingly by sketching it all out on the calendar. Then step back and survey the results. Does your calendar reflect the type of season you want? Does it consider your energy and how you’ll feel? If not, go back to the idea that everything is optional and find something that you can remove or put on standby to do only if you have the time, energy, and desire.

Plan time to recover

Even if you only do things that you want to do this holiday season. Even if you plan ahead and are efficient with your time, you may still feel tired. And that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It’s a lot to fit into a short amount of time ON TOP OF your normal responsibilities and everyday life. So in fact, why not anticipate that and make a plan for a little recovery time, either at the end or throughout? I’ve seen parents take a PTO day leading up to the holidays to recharge before things get busy or afterward to rest, hire a mother’s helper throughout to be able to take a nap or just relax for an hour or two, trade off time with their partner or co-parent, or just hire a sitter. As the orchestrator of the season, there’s a lot on your plate. What will you do to take care of your energy?

Take notes

If you want to make the holidays more effortless, do your future self a favor and start taking notes. 365 days is a long time to expect yourself to remember the details so as much as you can throughout the season, take notes. What did you do, eat, and gift? What worked? What didn’t work? How did the season feel overall? What do you want to do differently next year?

Having these lessons to look back on as you’re planning the next year’s holiday, will help you create with even more intention and help you relax even more knowing that the details are taken care of.

And if all else fails, think back to the memories that you have as a kid at this time of year. Let that remind you that it’s rarely about what you did and more about how you felt. 

Happy Holidays!

Katelyn Denning


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