Holidays are meant to be a time of joy, love, and togetherness. However, for many people, it becomes a period of stress, pressure, and emotional turmoil. In the podcast episode titled “Navigating the Holiday Season: Stress, Expectations, and Finding Joy,” hosts Laura Wood and Michelle Beaver offer a deep, insightful exploration into the complexities of the holiday season.
The episode begins with an exploration of personal holiday experiences. Holidays, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, come with traditions that are deeply rooted in our childhood experiences. Yet, these traditions, as nostalgic as they are, can often come with pressures. The hosts share their own experiences with holiday cards, decorating, and the innate desire to be the “perfect” parent during the holiday season. This exploration delves into the influence of our upbringing on our holiday traditions and how these traditions shape our approach to the holiday season.
Next, the episode discusses the pressures and guilt surrounding holiday expectations. Holidays can bring a mountain of stress, especially for mothers. From feeling inadequate in holiday preparations to the societal expectations and comparisons that add to the stress, the hosts candidly share their experiences. This section serves as a gentle reminder that it’s okay to not live up to unrealistic standards. It encourages listeners to focus on the joy and experiences of the holidays, rather than striving for perfection.
The hosts then navigate the complex topic of holiday expectations and emotions, particularly around gift-giving. They share their struggles with hiding emotions, feeling the need to respond “correctly” when receiving gifts, and the guilt that comes with not participating in all holiday activities. This conversation shifts towards dealing with these pressures, with a focus on self-forgiveness and finding contentment during the holiday season.
The episode then delves into managing holiday stress and expectations. This part emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries, doing things that bring joy, and not letting others’ reactions affect us too much during the holiday season. It encourages listeners to take care of themselves, highlighting the importance of being present and emotionally available for our children.
The podcast episode concludes with a discussion on navigating the holiday season, focusing on individuals who may struggle with it for various reasons. It emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries, taking breaks, being present in the moment, and seeking help from therapists to work through past traumas.
The holidays should be a time of love, joy, and celebration, not stress and judgement. This podcast episode serves as a valuable resource, providing a safe space to share struggles and insights and a gentle reminder to navigate the holidays with grace, authenticity, and self-forgiveness.
Read the full transcript
Welcome to. Why Am I Like this? The podcast that didn’t get enough hugs as a child? I’m Laura Wood and I’m a licensed therapist who works with parents and kids to stop generational trauma, and this is my friend, Michaela.
Hi, I’m Michaela Beaver. I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I work with kids and families to improve mental health from a holistic perspective.
So we’re talking about the holidays. We’re talking about what we experienced growing up and how those experiences may have created the way we do holidays as an adult. So, Michelle, what are your plans for the holidays?
So I’m a big Thanksgiving person, right, because Thanksgiving for me is like no pressure. I took on Thanksgiving as a kid and I started learning how to bake pies from scratch and I loved that time in the kitchen with my mom and it just felt free and easy and there was no stress associated with it, even though I know people do stress about having the perfect, all the things turning out. It was just about growing and growth and having fun together and being together. So, like Christmas, we do the same thing we get together, we’ll have food probably some kind of roast or brisket or something like that Usually my husband makes because he’s all about the girl and then, like I don’t know this year if we’ll be at my parents’ house, because they just got a place and they want to host, because they’re big into having people over to their house, which is great for me because I don’t have to clean my house as well, and so that takes some of that pressure off. But I’m excited about the little things. My kids are getting to the age where they’re really liking Elf on the Shelf and they’re really into that piece of it and they kind of are getting more like they’re six and three and so they’re getting more into knowing and understanding what to expect because they remember it from past years. But Christmas is just not my favorite and I don’t know. Starting in November, my friends start texting me like what’s your address? You know that they’re trying to prepare for sending out Christmas cards. Do you send out Christmas?
cards. I do not send out Christmas cards. One time I think I sent out Christmas cards or I intended to send out Christmas cards and I didn’t. I cannot tell you which is true, but that only happened once. I don’t do Christmas cards. I don’t have it in my brain capacity to do that.
Yeah, so I have this like mixed thing with Christmas cards. I think it was probably two or three, maybe it was like three years ago. I ordered them, I got them and then they sat in the box and I never sent them out, and so every year I’m like, oh, I should do Christmas cards, and then I’m like, yeah, they probably won’t get sent out, and so I have this guilt that I should be sending out Christmas cards and I don’t.
Yeah, so that is the same experience that I had. I can’t. I literally it’s like I can’t remember if I did it or if I only thought about doing it. But I know I had pictures taken which, when I say that it was a friend took a picture of me and my kids like on the steps, like in our house, like as nicely put together as we possibly could have been when my kids were all toddlers. But either way, you know I did the thing and then I went to one of those online this was like almost 20 years ago, so there wasn’t quite as many like options but I think I uploaded them to some website where it was going to send me cards that were Christmasy cards with our picture on it or something, and that was like a big thing back in the early 2000s. So I think I did all that. Now I don’t know about the full execution of the book. I know Like I wanted to be one of those people, right, I wanted to be the mom like I’m a young mom in the early 2000s. This is like in the beginning of like mom blogging and like, where everybody’s sort of like showing off how great moms they are and so, like now it’s like the version of like Instagram, mom fluencers or whatever. That I didn’t I thankfully didn’t have to experience because I was. This was before then. I don’t think Instagram was even a thing yet. Yeah, I was like I’m gonna be, that’s who I am as a mom, I’m gonna do all the things. But then the reality is that that’s not at all who I am and I didn’t do any of those things and I don’t know what that says about me. But I really was like I had a lot. It creeps up every holiday, like I wanna be one of those people who do things like holiday things and are like good at it and I’m just waiting the house, yeah, and I’m just not. And my kids complain about my decorating, my not decorating the house and they say, well, so they have stepmom and she does a really amazing job at decorating their house, right, and so my kids will be like why don’t you do this? Like her, and I’m like she’s better at it than me, I don’t know.
Like I just I just Well, it’s so funny because you’re so good at decorating like the office, Like I’ve not seen your house, but like you have very good like style and taste and like people comment on it all the time.
Yeah, and you know I think it’s funny, the holidays. For me, I think it’s just about an inefficiency, and so I don’t know what this is in my brain, but it’s like extra steps that you have to take that have nothing to do with real life. So it’s almost like an inefficiency to me. It’s like why would I do this thing, only to have to take it down in a couple of weeks? It just seems like a waste of time. I’m just not and you know this is something that people complain about me is that I’m very like A to B man, like don’t, I’m not trying to take the long way home, like it tends to me, and so I think that’s why sending out cards or like doing the decorations, or like all the holiday events, or like carving pumpkins or you know making whatever, I’m just like that seems like a waste of time. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
Why are you like this? Why am I?
like this. I don’t know Well.
I’m with you. Like I have a handful of things that I put out and I’m like this is pretty good. I’m proud of myself, like I have some pillows and a tree and like some like garland with some things, and I’m like, all right, my house looks like Christmas. But this now I go to my mom’s and her house is like Christmas and I’m like, oh, okay. Or like I get these like really cute cards for my friends and I’m like, oh, they really got it together. Like they have the green, like this one friend and she’s always got like the coordinated outfits and the family pose is great. And I’m like, oh, I love that for you, I love that for me. But like, why, like, like the time? I think, like the time just goes by and I’m like, oh, I guess it’s too late now.
Yeah, I totally feel that I see, and I get that twinge of like not good enough isms, and I see my friends do amazing things with their kids and even just as you’re talking about Elf on the Shelf, right, like I believe again, my kids are a lot older, so I don’t know if Elf on the Shelf was even a thing when my kids were little, but if it were, I know I wouldn’t have been good at it, like I knew my elf would not have moved. My elf would be in the same place every time until, like maybe my elf would only move like once every like 17 days. That I’ve like, oh crap, I forgot to do the elf. Like I’ve always been bad at this stuff. I always forgot about being the tooth fairy. My kids and I was like, and then I made some story about how our last name and it starts with a W and so she’s probably just got tied up. She got too busy and so, because we’re towards the end, maybe she’ll come tonight. It’s gonna be like a two day thing, cause like you know what I mean. I mean I can think on my feet, but I’ve always just been really bad at this kind of thing and I think just growing up I don’t remember a lot of like sentimental kind of interact. Like we didn’t do a lot of sentimental stuff like around holidays. I really can’t remember. The only thing I remember growing up about holidays is like we would always go up until I was a certain age, Like I think we probably stopped when I was maybe in like my preteens or whatever, but we would travel back East to see my parents’ family for Christmas, Like so that’s what we did. I remember that. And then I remember being really disappointed when it stopped. So like I don’t know if maybe I’m sort of like reenacting like some level of like frustration that we don’t, that I didn’t get to go see my family for Christmas. So now I’m like boycotting all like holiday things. I don’t know if this is like a rage response to that, but yeah, like I just don’t remember growing up in a super sentimental house and so maybe that’s why I’m not sentimental, because I really am, just like it’s another day.
Yeah. So that would make a lot of sense that you kind of don’t have that connection with this particular holiday.
Yeah, and then, as I think about it, when my kids were little, the not good enough isms would sort of come in for me, because I was a single mom and I was broke and everything was hard. And so you know, I’m doing everything on my own and I’m not making enough money to really do a great job at supporting everybody. And so it was always every Halloween, like how can I buy these costumes? Like I can’t afford this. So just now, that makes me feel not good about myself. Every thing like how can I buy all this extra food? How can I spend money on presents, so everything just was like an exit. Everything sort of showed me how inept I was. Does that make sense? And sort of like this constant reminder of how not good enough I was as like a mom at the time. And so I think that’s really where my dislike of all types of like extras, like holiday extras, like really just like that’s where that really solidified, I think, because that was such a difficult thing to be reminded constantly in that moment of like I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. And then it’s like I’m disappointing my kids and I’m having to like ask for help a lot and like my parents and like I’m asking you know, and we would get food boxes from the kids school like to have get us through the holiday break, and so it was like there’s a lot of pressure. It was really hard. Yeah, it was just a lot of pressure, like there was no extra, we couldn’t do extra, and so it was really difficult for me to kind of tolerate that.
And so now so do you think that that was your, your kids experience of it, though, or do you think that you just put that on yourself?
Oh, that was all me. Right, like that was me feeling this way, based on, like, expectations of society or expectations of mommy bloggers or whatever, right Like that I kind of created for myself and then me internalizing this not good enoughness that was made up because it was good enough, it was absolutely good enough. I worked my ass off and I raised three kids and you know, they never went without because I had resources and I utilized my resources and I had a great community around me. So like I wish that I didn’t have. I didn’t. I didn’t internalize that in that time, but I really do believe that now, even though my circumstances have changed, as soon as it comes up to the holidays, like I start to feel that again and I sort of just avoid it all. So like that’s kind of why I’m like this, I guess.
Well, that makes a lot of sense. That’s a lot. It’s a lot of pressure and I think it’s like I think that’s what it is for me too Like now is that it’s just a lot of pressure, like, even though I have the resources to do things. It’s like I would rather not spend money on that decoration to make my house look nice and my kid, my three year old, probably just going to break that thing anyways. But then I like, like I make that trade off and I consciously made that choice. But yeah, I still have the guilt and I still look at other people’s things. Like we drive by all these houses that have all the decorations and all the lights and I’m like I want that for me but I like don’t want to do the work to do it either. So it’s like this, like battle inside of myself, like and I have to tell you this like hilarious thing, so like talking about Elf on the shelf. This morning we get downstairs and thankfully fell, like saw that we had not moved. The Elf Kids are down there and he like, I think, puts it like in his pocket or something, and Grayson is literally like searching for the Elf’s name is Garrett. He’s literally searching for Garrett and I’m like, okay, so it did get moved, okay, or it’s not in the same spot, but like we can’t, it’s not anywhere else. So I was like I have it in my pocket and I’m like, oh, let’s look upstairs for Garrett, like maybe he’s up there, so I take them up there and I distract them long enough for him to like put the Elf somewhere else.
So it was the whole thing this morning. Yeah, it’s like you have to remember and then you have to like do it, like I love that you kind of like partnered up to save that experience for the kids.
And it’s not like some of these people. They’re like they’re like you know the kid they have like elaborate candy things where Garrett got into stuff, or like they’re they’re all into stuff and like it’s so wild how creative some of some of these parents are getting with it and I’m like I could barely remember to move it.
Well, and so there it is again. Like this whole, like comparing ourselves to like what we see and like the best possible version of like some holiday movie, and just reiterating this, like you’re not doing enough, you’re not good enough, and I just I do feel like that is a real theme for moms of the holidays. I do, I think I don’t think that we’re alone in that and I wonder where that comes from.
I’m glad that we’re not alone in that. Like homes out there, you have to feel this too, yeah.
And and you know it’s like I know we tell each other, like not to compare each other, but like we’re doing it to ourselves, but we’re telling our friends like that’s not to do that. So like I almost want to sort of tell ourselves and collectively stop doing that. Like I always try to say like okay, I have other strengths. Like this is okay, right. Like this is okay, that’s not my thing, I’m not, I don’t have to be so great at everything. I’m great at a handful of things. Those things just don’t happen to be decorating for the holidays or creating like a really elaborate elf scheme to share with my family. Like I think we need to be more forgiving of ourselves and not put so much pressure, Cause I think that really does take us out of the funness of it and the silliness of it and we’re missing out on joy Wishing that we added one more thing to our tree or whatever.
Yeah, well, I think I’m more. I like really feel that I like experiences more than I like things, and so, like I am into getting the matching pajamas, because that is in this year, like it’s just the boys, you know, it’s just them. Like we didn’t do the whole family, so sometimes it’s not the whole thing, but, like you know, we got them matching Grinch cute little pajamas and like cause it’s a fun experience for them to like get to dress up. And so, like I’m about the experiences of it, because, like I think like the surprise piece of the holidays gives me like a little bit of anxiety or a little bit of like that guilt, because I think it goes back to like my I had a surprise birthday. I told you about this like when I was five I think, or something, and I was so sad all day long Like we went to the park and we like did all these things but nobody was really making me feel like good, like that it was like my day, or like it was just kind of like brushed under the rug, like almost like they had a problem with it. Yeah, yeah, like we weren’t doing anything special and like, and so I felt like really sad and then I got home and it was like this big surprise party and then like I felt like a jerk for feeling bad, like I don’t remember a lot of things from my childhood, but I remember feeling like bad, that, like I had acted in that way or like that I was disappointed, you know, yeah.
And so now any surprise kind of brings that feeling back of like, oh I acted that way, or I’m a jerk or whatever.
Yeah, I think it’s like I’m just never been very good at like hiding my emotions, which, like they shouldn’t hide our emotions right. Like it’s not a bad thing, but like sometimes we don’t want to like let other people have to experience like the things that were and you know the things that are going on in us, because it’s scary for us to like let people know how we feel, or we don’t want to hurt their feelings, you know. And so like I like it’s very obvious when I don’t, when I feel away and like yeah, so it’s just a lot of pressure to like also then like the thing that you’re getting for Christmas.
Yeah, and like respond correctly in that moment, like making sure you’re thankful enough or you’re happy enough, you’re excited enough, you don’t want to look like ungrateful, or you know, when kids like rip through all the presents and then like that’s all, like you don’t want to be that guy. So, yeah, I think there is that added pressure of like not letting people down, like enjoying it enough, being happy enough to like make other people feel satisfied that they did a good job. Right, that is pressure.
I know. But I think, like you know, we are, even if it’s like I think it’s better in our all, but like it, you know, I am grateful for the things. Like I’m really just grateful for the people. Like I can get myself things that I want, I like, I just I just really like the experiences and the time together more than anything else. And I think that, like the pressure of like also making sure that people like the things that you got them and like it’s just a lot and so like and like this, I think like I don’t know, like have you ever worked somewhere where you they had like Secret Santa and then they had like this other thing and then they had this other thing and like there’s all these things that are like Christmasy, like gift giving stuff, and like you know, like we can give ourselves permission to not do all of the things. Like if there’s one thing you want to do, you can do that thing, but you don’t have to do all of the things that go on and like sometimes you kind of feel like you can let yourself feel bad about not participating in that thing, but like you don’t actually have to feel bad about it.
Yeah, I mean, I think definitely the corporate holiday party or the you know obligatory like Christmas or holiday recital at the school or whatever, right you know, I always at the time felt, when my kids were little, this kind of would go back to I can’t do everything. I had to work, I missed a lot of that stuff. So then here’s my guilt, my pressure to do everything and not being able to, and so now I think I present a little bit of that, like I feel when I see those kinds of things. Well, and now I don’t work for anybody but myself. So if I’m having a corporate holiday party, I’m doing my own secret Santa, it’s not that secret. But I think that it’s easier for me today to be excited about that stuff than it was in the past, and I think for a long time not only was I not excited about it, I was actively mad about it, and so those things that stick with you can really change your whole experience. And so not for me. It was like not even permission not to do it, but it was like a rage boycott of it. It was like I’m not gonna. That’s stupid. Like why does everybody think this is fun? Like it’s not fun. You know what I mean. Like I was like so internally, like hurt by my own internalization of some of the stuff that it made it really hard for me to have any fun. And I think that’s different now that I’ve had to sort of like reckon, like I’m like, okay, well, maybe I don’t need to keep holding on to this, like maybe I can forgive myself for all the things that I didn’t do well enough or didn’t see myself doing well enough, or let me give myself the grace that I deserved back then, so that I can now make different choices and decide. And permission to have a good time at the holiday party, permission to be exactly as much as I have and not more than that, and not give my, not cut myself down for not having enough or not being enough or not doing enough, but just knowing that, yes, this is exactly what I have is exactly enough. And so I think it took me, it was like a journey to get there, because I had to let go of a lot of past stuff that I had held on to for so long.
Yeah, that is hard and it does take time, but it’s so freeing that you are the only one that well and sometimes you’re kids but you’re the only one that’s really being hurt by hanging on to that anger and you’re the one that’s losing out on those things. And so, working through that and being aware that that is was affecting you in the present and now you can choose to be like, hey, I am good enough, I did the best that I could with what I had back then and I’m doing the best that I can now, like I don’t have to compare myself to others and I can be happy with the things that I do accomplish and that I do want to do.
Yeah, and so how can we? So that was how I changed, right, like that was how. That was what helped me. What are some other things? How can people make the holidays a little bit easier for themselves, even if they’re carrying baggage from the past or from the pressure of their family or whatever? How do we help? How can they deal with that?
Yeah, I think one thing that has helped me is setting boundaries right, like I think that like so hard, but like setting boundaries and being like you know, this is what I can do and this is what I can’t do. I’m like I don’t want to like cut this out of my life, but like I’m going to like participate in it for an hour or like, or you know, like you know so choosing, picking and choosing, and like setting those boundaries, and you know that can help with improving your experience, so that you don’t feel all the pressure and you don’t feel like you have to do all the things.
Yeah, I can take on some of this but not all of this. I can maybe say I’m going to bring a dish but I’m not going to like make every aspect of that dish from scratch. Like I’m not going to churn my own butter to make these cookies, but I am going to bring in maybe some like homemade cookies or something like that. Or maybe I’m going to cut up a loaf of dough from the grocery store but that’s enough. Like I don’t have to take on this whole like beyond realistic level of like. Yeah.
I love making pies and that’s like my thing for Thanksgiving, but this year I didn’t have it in me. I had another other responsibilities that I’m working and things I’m working towards, and I just didn’t have it. So I’ve got Costco pies, which we wanted to try them right, like that was the thing, and it turned out wonderful and nobody was hurt.
I love that point. It doesn’t hurt any. We’re all doing great, and we as parents and as moms that’s the perspective, at least, that I carry with me as a mom is. When I’m okay, my kids are okay, when I’m able to do things that I enjoy and make choices that are safe and happy for me and don’t make me feel like not good enough, then my kids enjoy their time with me and that’s really all we want. That’s really what problem we’re solving is like. I want my kids to have a good time with me and have this great memory, and so when I put all my all this pressure on my stuff to do stuff that I’m not into and I’m not getting what I even wanted out of it and it’s like just making everything not as helpful.
Right. So that was the next thing like, do the things that you enjoy and I think, like with that, like, regulate your nervous system, allow yourself to take that deep breath and take a moment and then be present in the moment and engaging with your kids in whatever it is that you’re doing, and that’s all that they want. They want our attention. They want us to be there and not be on Pinterest trying to plan our elaborate thing that we’re trying to plan. Right, like they want us to be there with them.
Well, yeah, exactly, you’re not needing to like you beating yourself up about how not exactly what you wanted it to be like is actually taking your attention away from them and it’s actually creating a misattunement. It’s creating space, distance between you and them and this experience because you’re in your head, you know, criticizing how everything you did, and so I think that’s so important just being in the moment with them, instead of trying to like plan out your next big, perfect craft or something.
I think also like looking at like the fact that we can’t change other people, like we have no control to change our family and their perspectives and what they decide to talk about or how they decide to be, but we can control our own emotional response to things. And so, like I think back to like my a time when, like I was going through a thing like I was having a hard time getting pregnant, like I have PCOS, and like so I went vegan. I went, you know, dairy-free, gluten-free, like I did all of the things because like that was what was going to help me heal my body naturally. So it was Thanksgiving and I made vegan. Like you know, everything was gluten-free, everything was a rendition and some things turned out horrible, like the worst, right, and my uncle, he gave me a hard time about it, oh no, yeah, but like from he didn’t know what I was going through, but like he, he was excited about like all the things that we normally have and normally were there, and like he was disappointed by that. And like you know, I think, like I look back on it and I’m like that was a thing that happened and like it hurt my feelings at the time because he didn’t like treat me very nice but and he was he like caught me off guard. But like, at the end of the day, like I can understand where he was coming from. Like he was excited about a thing and he didn’t get that thing. That was hard for him. But like we can’t change those people, we can’t change those perspectives, and things are going to come up and things are going to happen that are uncomfortable, but like we can be in control of our own emotional response to those things and like we get to choose whether we continue to be in that environment or we like peace out and we say, okay, thanks for the food, let’s talk later.
Like yeah, I think that’s important is you know how others respond to us, right? Because part of what we’re trying to do is, like make everyone else happy and when somebody is not happy, we take that on sometimes, yeah, like, especially when it’s our kids. But any family, right when, like if somebody’s disappointed, or like if we’re hosting, I can’t even imagine, like how deflating and just, like you know, discouraging that would be to have a guest say like, oh, this isn’t what I wanted, like that’s just I can. It’s crushing, you know. And it’s like we have to remind ourselves that, like other people’s responses to life, other people’s responses to disappointment, are not our fault or our responsibility and you can’t make everybody happy all the time. Like sometimes people have a bad day and so they’re not into it and that’s not your fault. You can’t make their, you can’t make their day better. Or like whatever is, whatever they’re going through, you can’t take that away. So, like they’re having a moment that they’re having the reaction and that’s what they’re having and that’s not yours to take away or change or whatever.
Right, I mean looking back. I wouldn’t have done anything different. Yeah, I was happy with my choices, and if you want real pumpkin pie, you brain it yourself.
Go to Costco. They have it there. No, I think that is really really good advice, I think that’s really important and for all of these things to just kind of for us to keep in mind as we get into the chaos and the extra things and the. It’s so easy to get caught up and so, you know, just stopping knowing that we can do these things, we can set boundaries, we can settle ourselves down, take breaks, you know, check in with ourselves, be in the present and not try to change everybody else’s experience and let it be what it is and let that be good enough.
Right. Well, let me think that one other important thing to like really bring home is that, like, if your stuff is coming from something that happened when you were a child your trauma, like you know, not having those experiences like there are amazing therapists out there that do that work, that work through those things with people and so like you don’t have to say stuff, you can work through that stuff, you can reprocess it and you can get better and that’s a possibility for you. You don’t have to stay here.
Yeah, and you can. Once you get rid of that, once you release that stuff and rewire it and rework how that stuff is stored in your brain, you can then go and design the perfect holiday for you and change the way that you experience every single thing going forward. I think that’s a really I love that. I think that’s a really good place to end and, yeah, I think I hope that this is helpful for somebody who is maybe struggling with the holidays a little bit for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to just stop blaming ourselves for our bad moods and let it be what it is and keep going forward, keep taking steps, going forward.
Yes, absolutely. This was so much fun. I loved rehashing all the things with you. So thank you for joining and doing this conversation about the holidays. Yes, thank you so much.