Do You Love the Holidays, or Do They Stress You Out?

Posted December 19, 2008 by

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I’m not sure that the word “stress” should be allowed to take so much credit for all the magical hubbub going on around us at this time of year.

Balancing our holiday parties, gift giving, visiting with relatives and spending time putting in batteries can be viewed as stress or as LIVING! How about a perspective shift?

Imagine it this way. When I was a girl I spent hours setting up the Barbie house. I arranged her tiny outfits, made doll beds out of discarded Christmas boxes and used the blocks to make the outline of Barbie’s home, etc.  It took hours.

Then,  when the Barbie house was all arranged I was never ready to actually hold the dolls and make up the Barbie words and march her around like she was alive.

I decided that I was someone who loved setting up the house, but not the one who loved the acting.

Did that mean I wasn’t having fun? Nope.

At holiday time, all the chatter is about the pressure, the lists, the wrapping, the family coming to visit. And, oh, the cleaning. And why do we clean before the party? Our homes just get all messed up and they really need the cleaning (some would say need the sanitizing) after.  I remember the year when I carried in the ice cream pail filled with rather slushy brandy slush and the handle broke. The plastic cover bent open as it hit the floor and we all knew that if we didn’t get it cleaned up quickly we’d be sticking to the floor as we went back for our second helping of sweet potatoes.  Several of us in our holiday outfits, scrubbed a kitchen floor together. Technically that could count as a holiday family bonding experience.  But I digress.

Each December I see everyone around me looking like they are enjoying all the activity. This elicits a response from some of the more sensitive people in our clan,  a call to panic of sorts, as they begin thinking all the people around them seem to really love the hustle and bustle, aka “the spirit of the season” or whatever label they are putting on it. They might even go so far as to wonder when Uncle Kevin is going to break out singing Silver Bells. “Why am I not feeling the intoxicating holiday buzz?”, the stressed ask themselves.

Some of us like the rush of the decorating the house, some of us like the part where we see the satisfied faces on our loved ones as they sit in the middle of ripped up paper and ribbons.  And some of us like the calm that follows the clean up,  where neatly stacked treasures sit like an island on a great expanse of empty, uncluttered floor.

For 2008 Christmas, I’m still creating and setting up the house.  This time the building is not for Barbie, but about constructing the traditions for our family. No acting required. No fear that I’m missing out on a thing. I’ve got the spirit.  One is digging in the storage box, and eyeing up the branches of the tree we cut down earlier on our trip to the farm and she is decorating everything heavily at knee level.  One is focused on taking all the snowmen ornaments and facing them in rows to do battle.  One has turned up the stereo tuned in to the all day everyday holiday music station and is dancing with her Dad, both singing with Louis Armstrong, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

How about you? Is there something you enjoy doing during the holidays? And which part would you rather skip?


Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at

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  1. Annita Report

    Dear Loving Mother to Angela,

    I can give you food for thought if that is what will help you find a place to center yourself because that is all that i can offer. I am not a psychologist but there are many working with EP that may offer you some additional insight. I encourage you to explore the site.

    So i’ll start at the beginning by congratulating you for your work as a mom, as a provider as a loving parent. It is extremely difficult to be a single parent. No one to bounce ideas off of, no one to back you up when you discipline, no one to give you a break when you are at your wits end. Parenting is a big job and requiring long hours PLUS a job in the outside world to feed, clothe and support them. But it is a job that will makes us better people for in the long run, we learn so much from our children.

    It requires a lot more patience than you think you have. But you have it. It is built in to your body from the moment you bring them into the world. It is a natural instinct to love and care about them even in the worst of circumstances. And that is why you are in so much pain right now.

    It is clear you love your girl and that you want her to love herself. You cannot control how others love her, whom she loves, or how she loves. But you can model what you believe love is.

    It is also clear that you have made it a priority to give her the gift of having a father in her life. As difficult as it is, ex spouses are still important in the lives of children of divorce. Kids need at least two adults they can trust so that when they face situations like this, they have someone to turn to who can teach them how the world works and how their behaviors fit or do not fit into it.

    You have also given her your calm and clear voice by not reacting to her violence with violence. When parents forget to “use their words” or “to use nice hands” it only serves to teach children that it is okay to be verbally and physically abusive if you are bigger/stronger/older than another. You have avoided that by acting like an adult. Her physical aggression toward you should not be tolerated if not only for the basic reason that you are a human being and do not deserve to be hurt, but for the simple reason that your job as an adult is to provide a safe environment for yourself, Angela and your younger children. For these reasons, it may be a blessing that she is living with her father now.

    I will congratulate you on communicating with the boyfriend, his family, your husband, the school, and with your own family counselor (?) I encourage you to communicate with those siblings that are still at home. Tell them you love Angela and that you will always love her no matter what. Share that you miss her terribly but that you do not miss her behaviors. Share that your job is to make a home that is a safe place where everyone speaks respectfully with each other.

    Reiterate that a child’s job is to listen to their parents, put school first and to remember that “love is spoken here”. Respectful communication and respect for each person in your family is what you expect from anyone who enters there, family or friend, your child’s boyfriend, girlfriend, even your ex husband or strangers. Let them know that when Angela’s behaviors meet those expectations that she will be welcome there.

    Someday, she will value those expectations, will find enough respect for herself to value good behaviors, and she will come back home. You just cannot predict when that day will come.

    While you wait for Angela, don’t forget about your other children. If Angela had stayed it would be for one of two reasons. 1) she had learned to respect you and the rules and decided it was a benefit to her to become a contributing family member or 2) she had found a way to bend or break the rules and knew you would not or could not enforce them. If the latter had happened, it would have served only to teach Angela exactly what you believe she is learning from her father and worse, it would be teaching her younger siblings that this is how we act at mom’s house.

    Which message do you want all of your children to learn?

  2. sdy Report

    I am a single parent. i have eight children, three are grown and the other five i have primary custody. Their father has visitation. At age 16 our daughter, Angela became involved with a troubled boy, Brad
    (17 then now 18). its a long story spanning 6 months of dating and a total of a year of issues regarding Brad or issues steaming from his negative influence on Angela. At the 2 months-mark i wholeheartedly supported my daughter’s decision to Break off the relationship with Brad. Brad threatened to kill himself. Angela and i together reported this to both Brad’s parents (also divorced). Brad’s mother pleaded with Angela to stay with him. i insisted that she not emotionally burden my daughter and asked her to support Angela’s decision…and get Brad some professional help. Angela continued to date Brad.
    By the 6th month mark, Angela had started swearing, grades plummeted, she became depressed, lashing out, lying… i fobbed her to see him. Angela broke up with Brad. Brad attempted suicide by jumping out of a car at 50mph….which Angela was driving at the time.. that was in July. i continued to keep her father abreast. in July i entirely restricted her from communicating with Brad. Christmas break i discovered that her father was endorsing and allowing Angela to be with Brad. i reiterated my position regarding Brad. She cursed me and slugged me in the face…and move in to live with her father the next day. And no i was not hostile towards her and no i did not strike her back. i said to her the first thing that came to mind ” That didn’t hurt me as much as it hurts me to see you where you are right now, i love you and therefor can not in good conscience give my consent for you to be with Brad” She laughed at me and responded “He’s not yours to give. He’s mine if i want him.”
    i do not know what to do. her siblings and i miss her. She is becoming more calloused and distant from us all. And her new religion is ‘Her Father Walks on Water’.
    How do i reconnect with Angela? How do i (along with prayer) do what is in her best interest? She has set a dangerous president for her three younger siblings. it should not stand that her deceitfulness, cursing and violence against me got her a newer-car, the boy she wants and her father as her sugar-daddy.
    Please help by giving me food for thought.

  3. Annita Report

    I’m glad the writing speaks with you rather than to you.

    Chilling and living in the moment are very difficult concepts year round and the difficulty of doing so is only exaggerated by the holiday because all the parties require us to “performing” for all the events and guests, etc. So start small, like in your home or at a small gathering of good friends and practice living in the moment for just one minute at a time. Feel the mood around you, see the emotions that are reflected the person’s face next to you, hear the sound of your own breath, taste the food that is offered and roll it around on your tongue before swallowing it. Live in the moment one sense at a time if you must.

    And go easy on yourself! Don’t make stress by promising yourself to not be stressed! We all need encouragement and support when we do take those steps to be ourselves- whether it is breaking into song at the family party or whether it is getting the courage to relax and let the chaos happen around us. Surround yourself with people who love you and then allow yourself to be WITH them, for just one minute at a time. Good Luck~

  4. Sistah Report

    I love to read your writing. It is like having one of our great marathon phone calls. I feel as if you talking with me, rather than to me, and you know I need to chill and live in the moment. Thanks for the gentle reminder. I resolve to live each day rather than stress about it. Oh, Uncle Kevin never did break into Silver Bells at the Christmas I celebrated with him. Maybe he needed some encouragment?

  5. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Annita: Thanks for offering your insights on holiday sanity. I really needed it this year! LOL. I think the thing that stresses me out most is shopping. Next time, I’m going to try picking out as many presents as I can during the year so I don’t have the last minute cramming session of shopping for all our relatives at once. Here’s to 2009!

  6. Kat Report

    I would love skip lugging all the boxes down from the
    attic and have them sit in the den for days while the
    tree is decorated in stages (not my idea). The good
    part is watching our grown daughter and her dad make
    gingersnap cookies together faithfully every year. Only
    he can get the combination just right. Some traditions
    are priceless!



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