This year, I’ve found myself doing things that I never thought I’d do as a mom. Homeschooling? Yep. Cooking three meals a day, day in and day out? You betcha. Cutting my own kid’s hair? Sadly, also yes. To be honest, I sometimes feel like an unwitting passenger on the 90s-era computer game the Oregon Trail, except that instead of dysentery, we have COVID to contend with.
And after eight months marked by shutdowns, canceled summer vacations, and very limited outdoor-only playdates, I’ve found myself going above and beyond to make sure holidays this year are extra special. It’s like I feel like I need to personally make up for the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic by making this holiday season the best one ever for my kids.
In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we made slime, a homemade haunted dollhouse, “witches’ brew,” even a to-scale garbage truck fashioned from cardboard and an old wagon to perfectly complement my kids’ garbagemen costumes this year. (Our neighborhood garbagemen are basically celebrities in this house.)
Thanksgiving has us hand-gluing feathers on a cheerful turkey printout, sending homemade handprint crafts to the grandparents, even making a grateful chain. Worth noting—my son is only two. He doesn’t even know what the word grateful means.Now that December is winding down, I’m finally making it a point to do less in new year. Call it the antithesis of a New Year’s resolution. Here’s how I’m cutting myself some slack in 2021.
Resuming “Normal” Life
Yes, I know that the pandemic will likely continue into the New Year, and after the holiday season, we may see a surge in cases. But like any mom, I’m carefully weighing my family’s mental health against the risks the virus poses.
I worry about my two-year-old and six-month just as much as any other mom. But recent research has shown that children are less likely to contract the virus, and less likely to become severely ill. I also worry that being quarantined for the better part of the year has affected their social development in a negative way. That’s why we’re sending my two-year-old back to preschool in 2021, either after the holidays or in the fall. Homeschool has been rewarding in a lot of ways, but it just isn’t for us.
We’re also going to hire a babysitter every now and again, get back to church, and we may even take the kids out for a meal or two, as long as we can do so safely in terms of social distancing and mask-wearing.
Dialing Down the Holidays
We’re still going to go all-out for the big ones—Christmas, Hanukah, Halloween, perhaps my kids’ birthdays. But I’ve realized that not every holiday needs on-theme activities, perfectly photographed seasonal outings, or festive jammies. Your kid will be fine if they wear an old dress on Easter, don’t don a full red-white-and-blue ensemble for the Fourth of July, or if you miss the pumpkin patch one year. I promise.
I’m going to let myself off the hook when it comes to the festive, at-home crafts, too. Sure, those hands-on, sensory-enriching activities are great for my kids. But what’s even better for them is to have a mama who’s well-rested, has some time to herself, and is, well, sane.
If you’re in a place to do so, hiring outside help can lessen the load of managing a household, career, marriage, and — oh yeah, the crushing responsibilities of parenting through a pandemic. At our house, we employ a lawn service, a pest service, housecleaners, and—wait for it— a team that cleans up my dog’s poop. Yes, really.
My husband has a very demanding full-time job and has ownership of several household duties, like grocery shopping and meal planning. I’m a full-time mom, a part-time freelance writer and editor. I also homeschool our toddler. Neither of us has the extra time to maintain our home on top of everything else. So, we hire help. And it’s something that I’m going to continue well into 2021. We may even get a little crazy and hire some part-time childcare so I can dedicate more time to my career.
Around Thanksgiving, I found myself running on empty. I was juggling holiday planning, two children, sleep regressions, and a myriad of other stressors. I always know when my stress is high because I’ll develop a ball of tension in the same place in my back. But this time, it worked its way up my back and up to my shoulder. I found myself with a strained trapezius, which is extremely painful, in case you’re wondering. I scheduled a massage, bought countless hot packs and muscle creams, and eventually ended up in tears on a late-night telehealth appointment, getting prescription-strength pain relievers.
I knew that I wasn’t taking good care of myself, mentally or physically, but I never thought it would catch up to me in such a painful way. That’s when I decided it was time to start taking care of me, too.
So I’ve started dropping other balls in order to practice regular self-care. I force myself to sit down and relax at night with a good show and a glass of wine, even though there are a million things to do around the house. I’ve denoted Wednesday nights as my night. Sometimes I get together with my girlfriends and other times I do yoga or go shopping alone. Above all, I’ve given myself permission to stop feeling like I need to do it all. Instead, I ask for help.
In 2021, I’m hoping to find some semblance of balance after this crazy year. I don’t aim to be a worse mom, an unengaged partner, or someone who doesn’t value holidays or having a clean and comfortable home. But I am letting myself be OK with less than perfection, whatever that means.
Maybe it’s not checking every last thing off our holiday to-do list. Maybe it’s going to bed with a messy house because my body needs sleep. Or it could even be something as simple as going to the bathroom before I go get the baby after his nap, because what mom hasn’t had to pee for the better part of six hours? It’s ok to choose ourselves first sometimes.