Mrs. Claus' Secret to a Peaceful Holiday Season

To let go means giving up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome.  

~ Jon Kabat-Zinn



Feeling overwhelmed with the holiday busyness right about now? If you think you have it rough, imagine what it’s like for dear Mrs. Claus — the mess left behind each evening by hundreds of creative elves, the heaping mounds of sugar-laden treats Santa consumes, the (impossible to remove) soot on his suit, or, (perhaps a bit of poetic license) the sheer volume of Red Bulls it requires to successfully make his way around the world in one short night? 

How does she survive year after year, decade after decade, without losing her mind? My guess is that wise, old Mrs. Claus has learned to lower her expectations a bit in order to preserve holiday joy and sanity. 

Whether it’s birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Halloween, most of us endeavor to create memorable holidays for our kids. Of course, we are saturated by the media with images of perfectly behaved, perfectly coiffed, and perfectly perfect families in all regards. It’s tempting to get lulled into wishing for some of that, too. If the gorgeous family in that Target commercial can have a beautifully set dinner table (with very breakable china) adorned with delicious food and children who enjoy a leisurely holiday meal with smiles plastered on their faces (with apologies to Judy Garland), why oh why can’t I? 

Oh, yeah, that’s right, because my family is real, as in imperfect. And I embrace all our lovely imperfections and age-appropriate behavior. Well, at least I’m working on it. It essentially comes down to realistic expectations—lowering them, that is. Because after all, it’s those unrealistic expectations rather than the conditions themselves that are the most disappointment inducing. 

Take birthdays, for example. Although it’s the custom in many cultures, I once believed it a bit self-indulgent to plan my own birthday, but after years of feeling slightly disenchanted by the day, I decided to take matters into my own hands. So a few years back I began scheduling the day off from work to create my own celebration. For me, it’s not the gifts I value as much as how I spend my day—which is outside playing amid nature. 

My husband voluntarily joins me for what he now refers to as the semiannual “try to kill your husband day.” (We also celebrate our wedding anniversary this way—hence the semi-annual.) It’s not as frightening as it sounds. Simply put, we head out in the early morning for a long trail run/hike and bike ride until we are spent, and then we savor a late lunch before returning home to the kids. Later that evening comes a home-cooked dinner by my culinarily talented husband, shared with our small extended family, followed by a trip to the local ice-cream shop (where I have also learned to BMOC—bring my own candle) so my family can sing “Happy Birthday” to their tired but delighted mom. 

So, take some advice from the woman who has been managing the most wonderful time of the year forever (Mrs. Claus, not me) and gift yourself some peace, calm, and mindfulness.

The Holidays Mindful Break: First and foremost, lower those expectations. Everyone will benefit from a loosening up, including you. Be aware of what is under your control and what is not. Plan as best you can—don’t wait around hoping someone else might read your mind and then let it play out however it may. When you find yourself becoming tense or irritated by someone’s behavior that does not meet your preconceived ideals, see if you can open to and accept the imperfections of the person, of the day, of the event. Often when we look back on these times, it’s the most imperfect moments that hold the most loving sense of nostalgia. As best you can, set up the conditions and then let the rest take care of itself. Sit back, breathe, watch, take part, and enjoy. Target can do it its way—you do it yours.

May your holidays be merry, bright, and mindful. 

Excerpted from Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms.

Of course Mrs. Claus may partake a bit as well. Shhh... don't tell or you might end up on the naughty list!

Of course Mrs. Claus may partake a bit as well. Shhh... don't tell or you might end up on the naughty list!

A Sneak Peek into Breathe, Mama, Breathe

The following is an excerpt from Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms, an easy-to-read combination of short meditations, mindful breaks, and relatable stories from my life as a mom to a four-and fourteen-year-old. Geared toward moms of all-aged kids, I’ve included over sixty mindful breaks ranging from breastfeeding to homework to stopping the teen ‘tude.

Drawing upon the scientific research of Positive Psychology (the science of happiness and thriving) and mindfulness, as well as years of psychotherapy experience treating overwhelmed, stressed-out moms, Breathe, Mama, Breathe is my answer to the enduring question posed by busy moms everywhere: How do I balance it all without losing my mind(fulness)?

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Good Enough

Letting good enough be good enough. Letting go of perfection. This one is so hard for most of us, and, well, why wouldn’t it be? Raising our children is often the most important endeavor we will ever undertake, so of course we take it seriously. I think this is especially hard for first-time moms. 

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read everything under the sun about parenting, wanting to feel prepared and in control as much as possible. As we all know, nothing can completely prepare us for parenthood. I put so much unnecessary pressure on myself to make the right decisions that I ultimately realized were inconsequential. The self-imposed pressure made me more anxious than I needed to be and less able to simply enjoy her. 

Busy moms are notorious for taking on too much. The pressure we place on ourselves is enormous. Whether working outside the home or within, most women believe they should be able to offer their children plentiful opportunities, entertain them much of the time, keep the house in order, maintain strong relationships with partners and friends, prepare the best snacks (read creative and healthy—thanks for that, Pinterest) for the classroom party, and volunteer, all while looking fit and young, with beatific smiles plastered permanently on their faces. 

Reinforced by social media and our fast-paced society, it’s easy to buy into the illusion that everyone else has it all together. Many busy moms suffer from a form of the “imposter syndrome,” a false belief that others are more competent and that our gross ineptitude will eventually be discovered. The truth is we all have times when we feel capable of juggling our many roles and times when it feels as if it could all come crashing down at any given moment. In Maxed Out, Katrina Alcorn quotes a friend: “The line between ‘Everything’s okay’ and ‘I’m on the verge of total collapse’ is so thin. . . . All it takes is one thing too many. . . . One nudge in the wrong direction, and everything comes tumbling down.” Attempting to maintain the ideal façade ultimately leads to one or more of the following: burnout, apathy, depression, anxiety, and struggling with consistent feelings of never-quite-good-enough.

When we realize that despite outward appearances no one is doing it all alone, without help or without eventually crashing and burning at some point, we can work toward liberation from our society-reinforced, unrealistic expectations. I have lightened up over the last fourteen years as I see my daughter is turning out (so far) just fine, but I still struggle with this one occasionally. I often tell moms who are so tough on themselves that good enough is great. Perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of ourselves, our spouses, and our children get us nowhere fast. 

The Good Enough Mindful Break: Notice when those perfectionistic thoughts arise, attempting to convince you that you, your perceived performance, or your kids on their own are not enough. 

Perfectionism is often accompanied by tense muscles and an overall lack of enjoyment. Can you let go of those expectations just a bit? Test it out when possible. Often we come to see that those stressful details really didn’t matter and that we were able to enjoy and be more present because of that bit of letting go. With compassion, remind yourself that for much of the time good enough is great. Keep working at it. It takes practice and patience, but it’s so worth the effort. From one recovering perfectionist to (perhaps) another, trust me on this one.

Credit line: Excerpted from Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms © Shonda Moralis, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.