Dear Younger Introverted Working Mama,
Let’s just get this out there: Christmas is an extrovert’s game. The parties, the people, the extra events in your schedule…all of it plays havoc with an introvert-mama’s mind. And there was a time, not so long ago, that year after year, I just survived Christmas. Sure, there were some bright, shining moments—lifting the candles at church as we sang “Silent Night,” nestling around the tree, finally ready to open gifts—but the rest of the time seemed to be so steeped in pressure that I only wanted it DONE. Over. Past.
Which is really so sad. I felt sad at the time, and I feel sad remembering it. Because as we heard in church this morning, Advent is all about making space for Jesus, for contemplation, for joy. But between the shopping, meal prep, baking, gift wrapping, outfit planning, holiday concerts and parties, it just took everything this introvert had in her to make it through, on top of a normally taxing, busy life. There was simply not enough margin in my life to handle anything as big as what Christmas takes. Or took.
You see, over the years, I’ve let go of some things and integrated others. See if any of this would help you in the coming years…
- Bailing on the annual Christmas card and letter. Yes, I feel guilty every year when I find gorgeous cards and thoughtful notes in my mailbox, but the guilt has faded over the years. Post a candid on Facebook or Instagram (or both, because we older mamas and grammas are only on FB) with a quick update on your family (if you feel like it), your best wishes for a Merry Christmas, then call it good. If you really, really want to send a card/letter, consider the New Year’s or Valentine’s option when things calm the heck down.
- Wrapping nearly everything in bags, which you collect and put away to be used again next year. Yes, unwrapping boxes is much more fun, but we’re after EASIER.
- Hiring a teen to wrap anything that absolutely must be in a box.
- Getting together with your dearest friends. Have lunch early in December, before the true onset of Christmas chaos. Then you know you’ve been with your nearest and dearest, even if you have to decline a few holiday party invitations later in the month to keep your head on straight and your heart in the right place.
- If you don’t love to bake, making only the ONE favorite baked good item that your whole family identifies with the holiday. Bail on the others–and the cookie exchanges. Because WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT? Sorry, bakers. I salute you, but if you’re a working mom, I’m not quite sure where you fit that into your schedule unless you’re baking at 1am.
- If you love to bake and won’t have to do so at 1am, making several dozen of one cookie and doing an exchange with friends can be fun and save you time/energy. At least, that’s what I hear. 😉
- Simplifying gifts. I like the “something to wear, something to read, something you want/need” idea. Or for older kids, going with the one-big present/Secret Santa exchange. We’re going to do something like that next year, because while I love the generosity aspect of lots of presents, it gets a bit gross to me—the consumerism, the mass of STUFF when so many don’t have one thing under their tree. My friend Sarah does the one-gift thing and now they focus on time together and fun rather than the gifts. I think we’ll do the same next year.
- Choosing necessities/usable things for stocking presents (if you do them). Toothpaste, lip balm, socks, underwear, snacks. Things you will use, not just fill bedrooms with more stuff that ends up adding up to quite a bit of $$. Post-Christmas finances are a huge source of stress for families. Let’s nip this one in the bud.
- Agreeing on a two-hour time exchange with your husband (or a friend) at least twice the week of Christmas. You watch the kids while he goes and does whatever he wants that he’ll find restful; you do the same afterward. A little mental-health break will help you navigate the rest of these busy days with more patience and joy.
- Buying outfits for the kids that they’ll wear again. Pants and a really cute/handsome top will be just fine. No, they don’t have to be catalog-perfect for church. Plus, this is a more economical choice. If you are into fancy dresses/suits for the occasion (and the kids are too), then go for it. If not, you end up like this year’s SNL Macy’s clothing “commercial” which made me laugh/stressed me out because it was so real.
- Going simple for Christmas Eve meal—maybe soup and bread?—and more elaborate for Christmas Day. Or vice versa. But do not slave away in your kitchen both days. Make a cute centerpiece (if you wish) with spare pine branches and cranberries and candles, and use your everyday plates and glasses so everything can go in the dishwasher. You can break out the china and crystal when the kids are older and can do the dishes for you.
- Taking the pressure off the gift you give your husband and he to you. Agree on a new frame for that picture you’ve wanted to put up, or a piece of furniture or appliance you need/want. Or better yet, put aside money for a night away in January. Time together is the best gift you can give each other. Consider boiling it down to one $25 item each to wrap and put under the tree.
- Buying a pizza tonight to feed the fam. You have enough on your plate in the days ahead. Christmas week is not about nutrition; it’s about keeping the kids alive and leaving you some joy and energy to spare.
- Watching a funny movie with the clan is one of our fun family traditions (“Elf” and “A Christmas Story” are our faves). Maybe yours is ice-skating. Or caroling. Or playing your favorite board game. But do make time to do one thing that you do every year. Those predictable family rhythms are what fuel our children’s happy memories, as well as our own. Funny movies, or laughter, also release endorphins!
- Worshipping on Christmas Eve. Go as late as you can without the kids having a meltdown. Bribe them with a small present before you go and one when you get back, to bring down the fever-pitch that gifts seem to bring on by “taking the edge off.” Because you want them to focus on the majesty and warmth and joy that a good Christmas Eve service can bring. The carol-singing, the story-telling, the candles. Definitely go to a church that lights candles. Yes, it’s a little scary with little ones, but it’s magical and something they’ll always remember/treasure.
Whew. That’s it. I wish someone had said these things to me, twenty years ago. That someone had given me permission to do all of the above—because I was my own worst enemy, putting pressure on myself to “do” Christmas as perfectly as I remembered my own mother and grandmother “doing” theirs. I’m still trying to establish what a doable Christmas is for me….it’s an evolving process. You’ll decipher your own over time too. Maybe there are other things that this list has made you think about, which would really help you or others next year. Feel free to add your suggestions/ideas in the comments below!
I wish you each a peaceful Christmas (as peaceful as it can be with Littles about) with moments in which you can really soak in the joy that the baby Jesus brought to the world. The hope, the promise he brought then, and offers to us now, if we focus on him, rather than all the Stuff and To-Dos that culture has placed upon our shoulders. May you sink in to the freedom he grants each of us, and be strong enough to take hold of it with a smile of relief.
Older Introverted Working Mama, Lisa Bergren