The good news is it doesn't have to be. First, we must remember, despite tradition, external pressure, or even outright familial guilt we are always at choice. When we step back and allow this idea to really settle in to our minds we are already on the path to balance.
Now, I know that it can feel awkward at first to stand up for yourself to come from a place of making choices based on your and your immediate family's needs but honestly in the end it is about setting priorities. Which leads us to our first tip.
#1 - Set & Hold Fast to YOUR Priorities
What are the holidays about to you? What do you want to experience this season? What are the most important traditions or rituals that fill you with a sense of peace, joy or community? Once you figure this out you can create boundaries based on those priorities. Once you do you will be able to move through the season with a sense of purpose. It will also help to avoid becoming overburdened by activities, functions and even family gatherings that don't match up with your priorities. Imagine how nice it will feel to release the need to try and please everyone and instead focus on what you feel matters most.
#2 - Make Room in Your Schedule for Down Time
It's time to talk about over scheduling. Following step number one can help cut back on most of this. The big kicker is to start with SPACE. That's right look at the month ahead and block out some space to do nothing or to stay open to do anything that strikes your fancy in the moment. In fact that's what step 2 is all about, staying in the moment. Because when you create time in your schedule to go with the flow you allow your mind and spirit to take in the beauty of the moments that naturally present themselves this time of year. To be outdoors and feel the cool winter air, to stroll down the city center and watch the activity as an impartial observer, to cuddle up next to a warm fire with a good book or holiday movie, or even just to sit in quiet reflection or prayer and allow yourself to bathe in the gratitude of the season.
#3 - Quell Your Gift Giving List
Whoosh, now I am as generous as the next gal (if you ask my husband I'm even more generous this time of year) however, it just doesn't make sense to give to the point of going bankrupt. If you find yourself over extended this holiday season it is probably a good idea to re-evaluate your gift giving list. This means taking the time to focus your time and money on those you hold most dear, first. Once you've taken the time to make or buy gifts for that circle then you can look at the rest of the people on your list. Ask yourself if perhaps, this year, you can simply go out for something to drink or even take a morning hike with your friends from work or other community group. After all, they may be feeling overburdened by the idea that they have to provide gifts to everyone they know too and may relish the idea of just spending some relaxing time together.
#4 - Travel Like the Pros
Now, whether you are a seasoned traveler or a novice, traveling with family can have its own set of challenges. However, following some pro tips for packing, planning, and even booking your travel can help free up time & energy to manage the possible (and likely) hiccups of traveling in a large group.
Here are a few tips I've found useful when traveling with my family over the years:
A) Checking in online prior to the flight (some airlines allow this up to 24 hours prior to the flight). Keep in mind you may need to weigh your bags and check to see what the size/weight limit is prior to hitting the airport. If you are traveling to a resort area make sure you leave room or are prepared to carry on additional souvenirs.
B) Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Especially important with toddlers. Things that have saved me are dried fruits (cherries, raisins, apples) and small bite sized crackers. First of all you can dole them out in small amounts to keep little hands and mouths busy during flight delays or on extended legs. Plus, if you get a handy "kid proof" snack dispenser it can double as a distracting activity while waiting in line, driving long distances or waiting to eat in a restaurant with slow service.
C) If they car service offers to pick you up or is located at the airport it's worth the extra fee when you've got several people and all their luggage to coral. You may also want to see about renting a car seat vs carrying one on the plane. It's one less thing to jungle as your herding everyone down the concourse.
D) Print your itinerary and provide copies (electronically or printed) to both the people you are traveling to see and the people you are leaving to tend to your home while you are away. That way, if your copy get's lost or you lose internet service you can find out flight numbers or hotel information with a quick call.
E) Triple check your packing list and be sure that these family essentials are top of the list: Pain Reliever, Tooth Brush/Paste, Combs/Brush, Underwear (seriously, my own Mother came to see me when my son was born and only had the underwear she was wearing.... needless to say a quick trip to the department store was first on her list). Check out this great FAMILY TRAVEL PACKING LIST from the Travel Channel website.
#5 - Find Your Family Sweet Spot
Who's on the naughty list? Ok, I know holidays to most people are about getting together with family. Their can be great warmth in gathering with those you love to reminisce and bond over Grandmas famous dessert or in the annual game of charades. Still for many people there are just certain family members that are best in small doses. There's no need to judge, I mean honestly, you may be that person to another family member. So, before you drag yourself and your three year old kicking & screaming to mean Aunt Bessie's house for pre-holiday cocktail hour ask yourself, does this make sense. If you and your entire family are going to be uncomfortable and the only reason you are going is because it's tradition it may just be time to revert to tip #1 and set a priority to put your family first. You may receive some initial flack or a guilt laden phone call from your mother but in the end you'll have more time to spend appreciating the time you spend with those family members that you cherish