Child holds up sparkler towards camera

More Joy, Less Stress: Unlocking the Secret to Happier Family Holidays

The holidays can be busy and exhausting, but what if they don’t have to be that way?  In Bounceback Parenting, A Field Guide for Creating Connection Not Perfection, I talk about ways to get out of a perfectionism rut, be kinder to ourselves, and find more connection with our kids. The holidays are a time when this motto of ‘connection, not perfection‘ really helps us be more present and more able to enjoy our families.

Each year, my mind fills with fantastic ideas of what to make, bake, create, and buy for the holidays. It’s easy to get swept up in all of the expectations and possibilities, but honestly, it’s WAY more than I can really take on. Even if I could get done all the fun things (let alone the things I get to thinking I “should” do), I wouldn’t have time left to just enjoy being around my family.

So- I’ve been taking a good look at my perfectionism and getting a bit more realistic. If the priority is having a good relationship with my family, then celebrations need to keep that relationship front and center.

This means letting go of trying to do it all, letting go of trying to make perfect celebrations.

Do you want a more connected, less frantic holiday season?

Great! Bounceback Parents believe in having a growth mindset about parenting – meaning we know we can learn, grow, and change if things aren’t working, and that includes our own holidays. Here’s what to think about as you move towards connection, not perfection at the holidays:

1. Be gentle – We don’t have to change all at once or get everything right.

Holidays can hold a lot of memories, expectations, and the potential for emotions to run high. It takes a while to get clarity on what you really love and what you’d like to let go of.  Think about the overall feelings and experiences you want to create, and try one thing this year that helps you experience more of these good feelings. It’s OK to experiment, and it’s OK to go slow.

2. If stress starts to overwhelm you, get perspective.

Back way up and look at the look at your the big picture.

You’ve got kids excited about the holidays who want time with you and who love the holiday traditions and decorations that are special for your family. For my kids, that means sparkling lights, hot cocoa, and presents. They see magic in chipped Christmas ornaments, Charlie Brown Christmas trees, and repetitive Christmas music. This doesn’t mean all these things have to be perfect!

Take care of the things that matter most to you, ask for help with these things, and let the rest go as best you can. Kids want your attention most of all.

When you can get some perspective, it helps you let go of trying to get every detail right. This is where the phrase connection, not perfection first came into use for me.

3. Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean you always have to do it.

Speaking of expectations…as you move towards more meaningful holidays, you may notice traditions that you do without questioning, even when they don’t really work anymore. It’s worth asking yourself if it’s time to make a change.

4. Think ahead about what matters most to you before each event of the season.

This way, you can let go of the rest more easily. Taking a moment to think ahead of time about what is most important to you can help give you clarity and confidence when making choices about what other events you say yes to, who you include in family events, and what you are willing to be flexible about.

5. It’s not too late to start new traditions

To our kids, something done twice becomes a tradition. It doesn’t have to be something done since your grandmother was a baby.

Here are some of my favorite resources for creating fun, meaningful, and connected holidays:

6. Think “Connection, not perfection” for homemade holidays without the stress

OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever spent Christmas Eve madly sewing or crafting, just wishing you could relax and eat the cookies left out for Santa instead. (Maybe this is just me, but I’m guessing a few of you creative moms have done the same…)

  • First- When making anything this year, imagine the finished product, then step backward through making it. Will you really have time? If so, is making this the way you want to spend that time?I started sewing an Advent Calendar one year but wound up stopping when I realized it was going to cause more stress than fun. You can make these choices, too!

Homemade Gifts:

  • Make a list. Now edit it. Twice. Take a good look at what time you have left. If you have not started making things yet, you likely do not have time to make something for everyone on your list. Prioritize who you want to make things for, and don’t feel bad about the rest. Wouldn’t you rather give something made with love than with resentment and stress?
  • Consider buying handmade- It is ok not to do everything yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat– You can give a simple homemade gift to many people many years in a row. I have a friend who gives little gifts of tea and hot cocoa every year. I look forward to this thoughtful gift, even though it isn’t a surprise. I enjoy the connection she shares with me by giving it.


  • Decide on your “signature dish” to bring to parties and family gatherings. This eliminates the need to think about what to cook every time you’re asked to bring something.
  • Let go. Only volunteer for what you can make without a lot of stress. If cooking up a storm brings you joy, great! But if you are in a life stage where cooking is difficult, don’t worry about it. Holiday dinners are easier if you can let go and just enjoy being with people rather than trying to make the perfect meal happen.
  • Take Control- Conversely, the way to eliminate stress for some families is to take control of holiday dinners. If you have food allergies in your household, it may be much less stressful to stay home rather than eat at a friend or relative’s house.


  • Think about what will work for your family this year- for instance, when you have a one-year-old toddling around, sure, your Christmas tree might look a little odd if it’s not decorated on the bottom, but you’ll feel much calmer!
  • Take a look with your children’s eyes- They see magic where you see mess. They don’t know that tablerunner doesn’t match that tree skirt! They see a wonderland appearing in their home!

Related: 10 Tips for Making Holiday Traditions Your Family REALLY Loves

Here’s what it comes down to: You have a choice!

Just because you’ve always done something or you think somebody expects you to do something does not mean you have to do it.

You’ve got to look at what you want for your family and make choices that will support that. You may get some grief about it, but in the end, if you want to have a connection with the people who matter most to you, you have to make that a top priority. Take a hard look at which obligations you are taking on only because of other people’s expectations and ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Have fun and get inspired, and remember we’re going for connection, not perfection, with our holidays this year!

Would you like to be more present and less stressed this holiday season?  We’ve created Keeping Christmas Cozy to support you in creating holidays that are memorable, joyful, and uniquely suited to your family.

About the Author

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Alissa is a resilience coach, cartoonist, and advocate for ‘connection, not perfection’. She’s dedicated to helping others find a sense of safety and belonging inside themselves so they can heal, connect, and build authentic, joyful lives.