3 Ways to Make the Holidays Special When Mom is Struggling


As I stare down the holidays, a heavy numbness rolls over me. I don’t want to celebrate gratitude. I don’t feel like putting up the tree. I don’t care to pick a new word for the new year.

Can you relate? 

Sometimes our heart isn’t in the holidays, whether from heartbreak, stress, or exhaustion. It’s OK, mama. Feel your feelings. 

I also understand that I’ve got four expectant, excited kids who want ALL THE MAGIC. So here’s a few ideas for being authentic to where you are at, while still giving your family beautiful experiences and memories.

Listen to The Kids

We love our traditions…but if doing them is filling you with stress, maybe it’s time to reconsider what everyone really wants to do. 

Whatever age our kids are, listening to what they want and need will definitely make for a better holiday. 

  • Do you have a baby that really sleeps better at home? Factor that in.
  • Do you have a toddler that would be happier eating “normal food” rather than Thanksgiving dinner? Listen to that.
  • Do you have school-age kids brimming with ideas? Pick a couple and make them happen.
  • Do you have teens with big feelings and opinions? Listening will only help.

Last Christmas, we let our 7- and 9-year-old plan the holiday. They wanted matching pajamas, immediate gift opening, special breakfast under the tree, a board game, and to do a craft.

It was special because it was what they wanted, without us imposing on them what we thought they’d like. 

I know this isn’t always possible, and kids can definitely have unreasonable expectations. But listening can guide us to giving them a truly magical holiday. 

Could this become The Year We Watched Christmas Movies in a Tent?

Here’s a couple questions you could ask:

Which of our holiday traditions do you love the best?

Is there anything that you don’t want to do?

What would we do on your ideal day?

Try New Holiday Foods

I don’t like making everything about food. But there is something powerful about “breaking bread” together. 

Don’t go to extravagant efforts, but maybe you could serve something out of the ordinary, or seasonally unusual.

Could this be The Thanksgiving We Had Nachos?

We went to the Sedgwick County Zoo this fall; to make it stand out from a thousand similar zoo trips, I brought cinnamon rolls and bacon to have a breakfast picnic. It had a double effect; it made the day special for the kids and actually boosted my spirits too. 

Here’s some brainstorming ideas:

  • Is there some nostalgic food you could find or make?
  • Start a Google search for a new recipe.
  • Is there something your family loves, but that you don’t usually have at the holidays? 
  • Go to a grocery store (like Trader Joe’s or Aldi) and browse specialty items to try. 

Take Care of You

We know our attitudes affect our family’s day, but I don’t always pause to see what I need to adjust my mindset. 

Their day will be more special if you feel well, so take extra care of yourself heading into this season!  

Self-care can be pretty basic, like getting good nutrition, more water and enough sleep. As an Enneagram 2, when I want to make things special for others, I tend to put things like food and sleep on the back burner. Yet it isn’t doing anyone a favor when I’m grumpy and burned out.

Take a minute to ask “what do I really need right now?” 

What answer just popped into your head? Try to get down to the deeper reason behind that thought. 

It could be: 

  • Comfort
  • Rest
  • Help 
  • Release

A few years ago, I made a list of healthy things that reset me. Now I pair them to fit my current biggest need. 

My healthy resets:

  • A hot shower or bath 
  • Drinking water and eating a piece of fruit
  • Reading fiction 
  • Taking a walk
  • A healthy snack (with protein)
  • Journaling (even angry mind dumps.)
  • Conversation with a close friend (or a therapist!)
  • A nap 

What would your list include?

At the end of the day, the holidays may be magical, or they might not be. What really matters is being present and showing my family that they are loved. My heart is into celebrating that all year long. 

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Jenna is a Kansas girl who married a Frenchman and lived her personal fairytale in Bordeaux, France for five years. In 2013, they moved back to raise their four children in Newton, where her husband is a firefighter. Jenna brought back a love of the French language, culture, cuisine and cheese. She never thought she would fall equally in love with Kansas and the Wichita area, where she feels so supported as a woman and mom. She is a WAHM, with a media startup.