Mastering the Holidays as a Mom with ADHD
It's taken me a good long while to figure out how to do the holidays well as a mom with ADHD raising 3 young kids without going in to ADHD burnout.
I love Christmas, I love wrapping presents. I love creating special memories for my kids.
And yet, it can be a recipe for executive functioning burn out.
There are so many decisions to make and my people pleasing brain gets so stressed out buying things for anyone other than my kids.
All the extra sugar and late nights impact us BIG Time. I need sleep, real food and exercise in order to be a nice mommy.
One of the greatest blessings for me was having a December baby. Our youngest was born on December 17, 2018 (by scheduled c-section) so I tried to get all of the to dos of Christmas done before she came so I could enjoy all of the baby snuggles.
I still wanted it to be a special, warm and cuddly... basically I wanted the good part without the overwhelm, anxiety and exhaustion.
Having to get things done early really motivated me to prioritize what really mattered and let go of what didn't matter.
In the end, it was one of our sweetest Christmases as a family. Even on no sleep, I felt more present and relaxed than ever before.
The following Christmas, we had a foster daughter join our family two weeks before Christmas. Yes, that was a little crazy but my effort to scale back the previous year made it really do-able.
Over the years, I've continued to keep things simple and to lean in to the experiences and traditions that are the most meaningful for our family while letting go of the things that don't matter to us.
Here's a few things that we've implemented over the years.
1. We keep the traditions low maintenance. We don't do elf on the shelf and never have. Our kids get advent calendars every year. For years it was the lego advent set but this year my oldest is getting a chocolate calendar and the youngest is getting a barbie advent set.
2. We've decided that we don't like traveling during the holidays. And to be honest, we don't really love having houseguests either. I don't have the bandwidth to do Christmas well for my kids and entertain houseguests in this season of life. Thankfully, we have 3 sets of grandparents within driving distance and they come to us. If we do drive to them , we make it a day trip.
3. We only do a few Christmas outings. When my youngest was a baby I felt like we had to do 10 different Christmas themed activities but that's just too much for us. Last year in December we went to a Christmas parade, caroling with Church friends, and went to an intimate Santa brunch. That was just the right amount of things. We'll do a few other things like driving around to see Christmas lights or checking out the boat parade lights in our neighborhood but play those by ear. It basically works out to one activity a weekend during the month of December.
4. I don't stress out about the Christmas outfits. I remember one year, I had to get ugly sweaters for one party and a Christmas apron for something else and then bring cookies to something else. I've learned that all of those little "extra things" add up and pretty soon I'm maxed out and cranky. I try and make sure each kid has one "christmasy" type shirt to wear for casual things and I usually buy them big so they get two years out of them. Same goes for Christmas pajamas! They also get one nicer outfit for church on Christmas Eve if they've outgrown what they already have.
5. I've learned to focus on MY KIDS and let go of everything else. I want to create a really special December for my little family of 5. I can do that and have learned to do that but only by letting go of other things. This looks like declining the invite of a random neighbor I hardly know for a cookie exchange or opting out of the Santa visit at the mall that "everyone" loves because I know that's overstimulation city for all of us!
6. I ask my kids what THEY want to do. I ask this again every year of what things they really have loved in the past and want to do again. It always surprises me what is meaningful to them. Their favorite thing is lots of christmas movies, hot cocoa, and popcorn with christmas m and ms sprinkled on top. I try and really listen to what is meaningful and special to the actual people living in my house and prioritize that over what other families are doing.
7. I limit who I get gifts for. Some people are great gift givers and it brings them so much joy. For me, it's super anxiety producing. I can give well to my kids and husband because I know them intimately but everyone else stresses me out. I give gifts to the three sets of grandparents, to my sisters family and two other families that are like family to use. That's all I can manage in this season of life. And for the grandparents, I order them the same photo book every year and then give a little something personalized for each of them.
8. I cook in advance. My kids like being at home which is wonderful but that also means the cooking and clean up for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day falls on my plate. I used to stress out about having several days of amazing meals but that was just too much. I couldn't be present and do that. So now, I have a set rotation of meals that I cook every year and can make in advance. I want to spend Christmas Day cuddled up on the sofa so I'll have a breakfast casserole ready to go for brunch, a slow cooker pasta for dinner, and chocolate fondue ready for Christmas dessert. Christmas Eve we'd usually go out but this year my MIL and mom are bringing food over for a late lunch after church. It really helps me to think through the load on ME so that I'm not expecting myself to cook elaborate meals for those days.
9. I plan for recovery. Even if we have a peaceful and relaxing Christmas, we will still be tired the next day. It's a lot of stimulation and excitement. The house will be a mess with wrappers which is stressful for all of us. We will all need a low key day after Christmas to recover and watch movies. We will need to get out to a park for some exercise but anything more than that is too much. We used to drive to one set of grandparents on the afternoon of Christmas after unwrapping presents but it was just too rushed and even my kids said they prefer to stay at home and enjoy their toys.
10. I try and learn as I go and focus on getting better each year. My oldest is 12 so I've been at this mom thing for awhile now but each year I learn more about myself, my kids and my husband. I try and pay attention to those lessons of what worked and what didn't and tweak a little bit each year. My goal is not to be the PERFECT Christmas mom (whatever that even is anyways!) but it's to have a special few days with my family making memories and creating our own unique traditions WITHOUT stress, anxiety or regret. For me, that requires letting go of how I think things should go and embracing the actual people living inside my home and adapting to their needs. That, of course, is an ongoing everyday sort of challenge!
I've pulled together guide with tips and insights on how to simplify your life this season that's called the Holiday Thriving Guide.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and disorganized, this guide will help you get everything out of your head and onto paper in an organized way.
It will help you clarify your goals and intentions so that you can prioritize what actually matters to your people.
It's only $7 so for less than the cost of your favorite Starbucks drink, you'll reduce your stress and anxiety around all things about the holidays.
But if I can leave you with just one piece of advice, it would be to throw away the Christmas checklists and to spend some time thinking about what you want Christmas morning to feel like for your family. What does it look like for you to feel like you did your part of Christmas well AND what memories or traditions around Christmas do you want to cultivate for your family?
Wishing you such a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!