A few years ago, I noticed something I had been doing for a long time, starting around Thanksgiving each year.
I’d mention something I liked to a friend: a scarf I fell in love with, a skillet to replace the flaking atrocity I was using to make eggs, some other small, not-particularly-expensive object that would make my life easier or a little more pretty.
“Are you going to get it?” my friend would say.
“No, it’s too close to Christmas,” I’d respond.
And this dialogue still happens in my own subconscious pretty much every time I’m at the store during the month of December. My hand hovers over the fancier body wash I really like – on sale this week! – but I pause. “I should wait until January,” I think.
Sure, this holiday-month self-deprivation mentality is partly budget related. I spend a lot more around Christmas, on anyone and everyone besides myself, than other times of the year, and tightening up discretionary spending where I can just makes sense.
But even right now, I could afford the body wash (especially since I’ve racked up so many ExtraBucks at CVS buying for everyone else!) And it doesn’t really make it any more or less affordable if I push the purchase off to January. Digging deeper, I know it’s not really about the money.
It’s just one more small manifestation of Holiday Mom Syndrome – the affliction by which we mothers feel we have to sacrifice all of our own wants and needs to make everyone else have a happy, joyful time, while also – and here’s the real rub – entertaining a deep-down fantasy that in the 11th hour, someone else will show up and make our dreams come true.
If I’m really honest with myself, the sentence “It’s too close to Christmas,” has an unspoken second half: “…and if I’m lucky, someone else might get this for me.” Or, “I’ll get a good night’s sleep again…in January.” Or… “I’ll watch what I want to watch on TV…when the kids have gotten to see every last holiday program they request.” Or even, “I’ll eat in a way that makes me feel good just as soon as I’m done making treating everyone else to the holiday foods they like.”
All those little deprivations are part of a toxic brew many moms willingly blend up for ourselves around the holiday: self-denial + working overtime to bring joy to everyone else + the unspoken hope that someone else will show up and do the same for us.
Mix well and serve on Christmas morning with a salty rim and a skewer of disappointment.
After I started recognizing this story playing out in my heart several years back, I realized that even though I’d worked hard to cut off all sources of Holiday Mom Syndrome at their roots the rest of the year, I was slipping back into mom-martyr mode during the holiday.
I decided that while I could not – and honestly, didn’t want to – remove the “working overtime to bring joy to everyone else” part of the equation, the self-denial part had to go.
Combined, the two created a dynamic where the only solution I could see to the natural grumpiness that occurred was holding on to this fantasy that maybe someone would notice all those things I was doing for them, and the things I wasn’t doing for myself, ride up on a white holiday horse, and richly reward me.
You know. Because kids do that kind of thing all the time.
In reality, it was completely unfair – to myself and to others – to expect the family to somehow magically, and using psychic powers, to make up for how hard I worked to make them happy. Unfair – and unrealistic.
I started focusing on the parts of the dynamic that I could control. After all, I didn’t have to shift my family’s budget quite so dramatically in the direction of “literally everyone besides myself.” I didn’t have to meet every last expectation I imagined the world might have of me. I didn’t have to schedule holiday cheer into every minute of the day until I had run up against a big gingerbread-flavored wall.
Instead, I began finding little ways to treat myself during the season. I stopped denying myself small things I could afford. When I felt grumpy or over-tired, I sought rest. While I took care of others, I found ways to take care of myself, too.
Am I completely over Holiday Mom Syndrome? Unfortunately, I’m not sure it can be completely cured, but the above treatment is pretty effective. I still have to remind myself regularly that I do not cease to be human during December. I still have to talk myself down when I wonder if I’m doing enough or if anyone’s noticing. You will too.
But it’s worth taking stock and seeing which actions are in your personal recipe for a grumpy, martyr-y holiday mom. Because like we keep telling you, Mama: You deserve to enjoy the holiday, too.