How to Survive the 'Supposed Tos' of the Holiday Season

How to Survive the ‘Supposed Tos’ of the Holiday Season

This is the season to feel a lot of pressure. The list of ‘supposed tos’ is never ending. There are expectations from family, work, our kids, our friends, and even ourselves. It's not just a to-do list, but it’s what everything is supposed to look like and be like. All of this is so overwhelming, and if you let it, it will absolutely pull you down. So how do we survive this and how can we actually enjoy this season living with the ‘supposed tos?’

We're talking today about all the ‘supposed tos’ that put a ton of pressure on us during the holiday season. How do we survive this going into this season and actually bring joy? Well, today we're going to cover this in three main points. First, we are going to name the ‘supposed tos.’ Number two, we are going to talk about why we feel the pressure of the ‘supposed tos.’
And number three, we're going to talk about how we can free ourselves from the ‘supposed tos.’

What are we talking about when we talk about a ‘supposed to?’

You're supposed to enjoy the holiday season, but maybe you don't; you're just trying to push through. I'm a “traditions” person, so I can get caught up in the ‘supposed tos’ of traditions because it’s what we've done our entire lives, and I love hanging on to those traditions, whether it's nostalgia or something safe. I always feel pressure to buy presents but even more specifically, to buy the right present. I want to get just the right gift for that person and it can add a ton of pressure because I'm supposed to get it right at the holiday. I want to be thoughtful. I love buying gifts and I want to get them something that's not just a token.

There is this reciprocal ‘supposed to’: if I find out you're buying me a gift, then I have to buy you a gift. You feel pressured. I love getting gifts and I love gifts, but at the beginning of the holiday season, I usually have my list of things and how much I want to spend. And then someone will say, “I got you something. I can't wait for you to open your Christmas gift.” I'm going, “What? Oh no, I've got to give you something now.”

What about the ‘supposed tos’ of not feeling in the Christmas spirit? I know early on in my solo season, I didn't feel cheerful. There would be glimpses of it, but it brought up a lot of grief, feeling like it's never going to be like it was. I was supposed to feel happy and gleeful, but I just couldn’t. On a spiritual side, I'd hear the Christmas story, and feel like, “I'm not really God oriented right now and I really should be. I am supposed to feel something.” Feelings are a weird thing around the holidays. It's a mixture. There's a contrast of hearing the Christmas songs and feeling the weather change a little bit, but just not feeling like you're in the mood. And there’s some shame. There’s so much to navigate with changing family relationships or losing a relationship. Along with it can come a lot of feelings of overwhelm, shame, sadness, or loss. And this is on top of all the other day-to-day stuff that we already have on our plates. It's not like it replaces anything: it's all “on top of.” There are holiday traditions that we used to observe or do that I can't pull off like I used to because there's only one of me. I can't do everything. I can't go look at Christmas lights, and at the same time, bake all the cookies.

Why do these things bog us down? What is it about these ‘supposed tos’ that puts so much pressure on us?

The pressure is everywhere, the societal and cultural pressure to have the holidays look a certain way. The ‘supposed tos’ from external sources bombard me. I want my house to look like images on Pinterest or Instagram. As a single parent, I compare not just to other people, but also to my prior selves, my prior life and what it looked like. And wanting to hold onto that because I’m not ready to let it go. I just don't want things to change.

Pre-divorce, I would put up multiple Christmas trees and have them themed and beautiful, and we'd have our family tree with all the collectibles and things the kids made. And I would push myself to do 80-90 percent of that every year, even though it was crazy. The biggest ‘supposed to’ for me was wanting it to be perfect for my kids. The pressure was about trying to maintain this ideal for their sake. I would say to the kids, “Hey, I'm going to scale back and I'm not going to put a tree in the front room.” And my daughter would say, “But mom, we always decorate that together every year.” And it's like, “Okay, I guess we're going to be doing that again.”

I'm trying not to let the ‘supposed tos’ overtake me and I'm trying to think about what I need versus ‘supposed to.’ Pare it back to what will help them feel loved and seen and known this holiday season.

So how do we move past that? How do we start freeing ourselves from the pressure of ‘supposed tos?’

I love the question “What do we need this season?” When it looks different and new, be present with yourself and take some time to grieve, but also give yourself the opportunity to dream a new dream and think about things in a different way. Take the ‘supposed tos’ and turn them into something different. I can't see how someone wouldn't have to grieve. I'm not talking about sitting in a corner and crying: you might just feel sad while you're figuring it out. But you can be excited about what this new season looks like for you. What do I need? What do my kids need? Bringing up the idea of prioritizing, not letting yourself be pushed through the demands of ‘supposed tos’, having an internal process of prioritizing how you want it to look and feel. How do my kids need it to look and feel this year? “We actually do need to put that one big Christmas holiday decoration out in the front yard.” Or, “We absolutely have to have a hot chocolate party.” But maybe you don't go to every party. Maybe you don't spend as much as you used to.

I thought of a ‘supposed to’ that we didn't bring up. What about those of us who won't have our children on Christmas morning? I'm supposed to spend Christmas with my kids. For the first couple years, I shared custody with my ex and had to spend at least half the day on Christmas without my girls. It is really important to grieve that, to acknowledge the fact that it isn't supposed to be like this. There are some ‘supposed tos’ that are not subjective: kids are supposed to be raised by two parents. When it's not happening and it doesn't work out that way, it's accurate to say it's not supposed to be like this. So, there's a place for grief.

When I'd have to share Christmas day, I tried to frame that a little bit differently in the sense that I'm going to look at this from my girls’ standpoint. Instead of getting one Christmas, they get two. When I could look at it through that lens, I had a little bit of joy. It’s a little broken but special. They get double the attention, double the gift opening. And that alleviated the pressure. There is sometimes an upside to these kinds of things.

If they have to deal with it, they should be on the receiving end of the good things that can come out of this. Reframing it in a way that allows for the truth that it's not the way it was supposed to be and you get to have two Christmas celebrations. It bridges both sides of something that's true and hard and something that's also good and helps our kids not have to deny one reality or the other. That’s a great strategy for single parents as they're reframing anything for their kids: to say, “It is sad that it won't be the same as last year. And you get to go to two places.” And highlight the positives too. And that way you're recognizing both sides of that equation for them, The good and the hard. I also wonder how much of the ‘supposed tos’ we're actually putting on our kids. I know I romanticize or make a big deal out of so many things that Jax says he doesn’t even care about. Because we do transmit to our kids. They pick up on the non verbals and verbals of feeling like we don't have enough or we're comparing ourselves. And honestly, it robs our kids of our presence with them. The holidays are going to be, and maybe they're even supposed to be, a little messy. There’s a lot of chaos. Taking some of the pressure off is important.

In the movie Parenthood, there's a holiday scene and they're all sitting around the table and everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong. And suddenly at the table, Grandma explains, “You know, when I was young, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up and down, up, down. Oh, what a ride. I always wanted to go again. It was just interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened...so scared, so sick, so excited...and so thrilled all together. Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.” It was this beautiful illustration that things don’t have to be perfect to be special. Looking back, some of the snafus of my solo parent days and what I perceived to be big fails or didn't measure up are some of the more special memories. What I'm saying is, life is messy. Be present because it's an adventure and you get to share this with your kids.

But all that to say, it might be worse depending on how old your kids are and what you can share and how much you can share. But just be honest with your kids and they might surprise you and throw a little wisdom out to you or take some of the pressure off. I held onto traditions my kids could care less about longer than I needed to. I just assumed that they were important to my kids. But when I finally said, “We're not going to do XYZ,” they're like, “Oh.” It wasn't even a thing anymore.

Takeaways

Number one, there are so many ‘supposed tos’ that they can be overwhelming and it's natural to feel those things.

It's also natural to feel the fear of missing out or have the pressure or desire to get things just right for our kids. That's natural. So have some grace with yourself.

And third, once you decide what's really important about this season, do your best to reframe the situations so you're not feeling like you're under the weight of the ‘supposed tos.’ And if you let that go and if you start being deliberate about that, you'll actually be a whole lot more present with your kids. And that's kind of what this season is all about.

Listener Question

Hi, I am Claire, a single mom. Meals are a big struggle for me as a solo. The whole process of meal planning, grocery shopping, preparing food and cleaning up—I feel overwhelmed and I'm struggling to manage it all and my kids just won't help. What should I do?

Meal prep is a big deal. First of all, simplify and realize you're not a short order cook. Everybody doesn’t get exactly what they want. This is what's for dinner. I'm the oldest of five. My dad worked late a lot. And so my mom was cooking for all of us, or one of us kids was cooking for the whole family. And it was like, “No, we're having spaghetti tonight and I don't care if that's what you want or not.” So simplify.

Once every two weeks I would go to Costco or Sam's and buy a big portion of frozen chicken, like five pounds instead of one pound. And I will cook it all and then break it all up. I'd shred it into three-quarter pound or one-pound servings and freeze them. And I do the same with ground beef. And the beautiful thing is it takes the same amount of time to cook one pound of chicken or five pounds of chicken. So you're not reinventing the wheel every single week. And you can just pull this out of a freezer, microwave, put some sauce on it—and nowadays there's all kinds of simple sauces. Like there's teriyaki, pasta, alfredo, pesto. It's so easy if the chicken or the beef is already cooked, add taco seasoning and suddenly you've got a meal. Also, freezer vegetables. If you have a pound of chicken, a bottle of sauce, some rice and some frozen peas or vegetables, it makes things a whole lot easier.

Get away from the ‘supposed tos.’ Don't let yourself feel pressured about it looking a certain way or being perfectly healthy every time, or a meal with two sides or whatever your mind is telling you. It really can be simple. Your kids just need to be fed and know that you care and love them. It really can be a box of macaroni and cheese or frozen waffles for dinner.
We actually did do a podcast episode earlier this year on this. It is the March 13th episode with Jill Castle. She's a nutritionist and talked through some of these things and gave some meal prep ideas and all kinds of stuff. It's a great resource.
 
Resources


Pizza vs. Vegetables: How to Feed Our Kids w/ Jill Castle

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