Who else looks forward to the holiday season every year, completely forgetting the push and pull that comes with being a mom?

Who else gets excited about all the “free” time that comes with time off work and the kids being home from school for the holidays?

And who else forgets that there will be a lot less idle time than you would like? Or a lot more noise than you would prefer? Or a lot more chores, less sleep, more bickering, less pleasantly calm relaxation?

I know I do. And every year I am thrust into reality starting around Thanksgiving and lasting until the second week in January or so.

I wonder if my reality looks similar to yours. I love the holiday season. I cherish all the memories we make. I try my best to enjoy the extra time with my loved ones (even if there are fewer loved ones involved this year because of the pandemic). That said, every year I end up struggling to keep the mom guilt at bay when things do not look or feel the way I imagined.

What the holidays are REALLY like (for me at least):

Whether home or traveling, I do not sleep more than usual. My husband and I take turns dealing with our kids’ nightly wakings, which seem to occur more than usual.

I do not get to slowly sip my coffee while mindlessly staring out the window, reading or scrolling social media, quietly in the morning.

I do not get to spend the day cozied up on the couch watching movies, or out walking the dog peacefully, or happily playing in idyllic settings with my husband and kids.

Instead, I keep having to reheat my coffee because the kids are hungry or thirsty or need their butts wiped. I keep having to say, “Sure, we can play that, but not right now,” or, “I said we would go to the park, but I’ve barely woken up. Give me some time to start my day,” or, “Yes, I do want to spend time with you, but…” and so on and so forth.

And with all of that comes a ton of guilt. I love that my kids want to spend time with me and that they want me to play that board game or go on that walk. I do! But I also want to be alone and not constantly under so much stimuli! Is that so much to ask? But then I feel like I’m ignoring them. But I am a person, too — not just a mom-servant!

My goodness. I’m tired just trying to fit all the internal dialogue into this post. Back and forth, back and forth, for eternity. Why is mom guilt such a mean girl?

What can we do to avoid this annual conundrum?

My mother-in-law told me I do not need to let it get to me. She does not think my son will be permanently scarred because I did not agree to play Battle Penguins with him at 9:30 a.m. She literally said, “Pay it no mind. He’s been up for three hours, and you haven’t. You are entitled to take your morning slow. He’ll be fine.” Man, I wish I could do that. I totally agree with her, and I’d probably give you the same advice. But alas, I’m harder on myself than on anybody else. And I bet you are too.

So, I am here to try to ease things a tiny bit for you, if you find yourself in a similar situation, especially as the weeklong “Christmas-Eve-to-New-Year” break approaches.

Here are three actionable tips to limit the mom guilt:

  1. Schedule your time away

If you have a spouse or partner, make sure you have an understanding that each of you will likely need some time away from parenting duties. Come up with a plan each day. Today, I needed to write this article and wanted some time to meditate and read. My husband wants to go fishing this afternoon. We agreed we both can have the time we need and we will be present with the kids when it is our time to be “on duty.”

If you are a single parent, this is not as easy unless you will be spending holidays with other family members. Perhaps if it’s just you and your child, depending on their age, you can come up with a way to have alone time each day, when your child can rest or watch a show, or something else that hopefully gives you some reprieve.

2. Make your needs known

Be honest with your kids about your needs, and keep communication open. You want them to be able to ask for what they need, especially as they grow older. The best way to make sure they feel empowered to speak up and ask for help or a break is by modeling this behavior. So when they come to you for yet another snack, help with the TV, or a request to play a game or go for a walk, tell them if you’re not ready. Calmly explain to them that although you appreciate their wants and needs, you also have wants and needs and you ask that they respect them. If they can wait for the snack, ask them to please wait. If you can agree on a time when you will go on a walk or play that game, discuss and come up with a plan. Unless their request is attached to a time-sensitive need, do not feel guilty for saying no or not right now.

3. Follow through with your plans

When you have your time to yourself that you’ve planned ahead for, whether you had something specific to do or just wanted peace and quiet, HONOR IT. Do not take it lightly. Do not make excuses or be a martyr and cancel it. You deserve this. You are a person just like everyone else in the family. You need this time, and it will help you be closer to your best self when you are back ON. The more you actually respect and embrace your time to yourself, the better you will get at not feeling guilty for taking it. And guess who else will benefit? Your family!

Share these tips with a fellow mama friend or sister, and talk about any other ideas you all have. The more we have these conversations the closer we’ll get to normalizing that moms are people too and not martyrs. Mom guilt is real, and it is not easy to get rid of. But just because something is typical and seen as the norm does not mean it is the IDEAL. May your holiday season be as guilt-free as possible, and may you make new, beautiful memories this year!

Angie was born and raised in Panama and attended college in Massachusetts, after which she took a couple of years to work in Boston and enjoy the nightlife before attending law school. Soon after becoming an attorney, Angie got married to the love of her life. They set down roots in Jamaica Plain, where they welcomed their firstborn, Henry, in 2012. Angie now lives in Nahant with her husband and two children (little Eloisa was born in 2015) as well as their rescue Boxer dog, Hobie. Angie is passionate about public interest law and serves as the pro bono director at Veterans Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services firm serving Massachusetts military veterans. Angie is also a certified life and leadership coach and loves supporting women and mothers on their journeys in their personal and professional lives. In addition to feeling honored to be a contributing writer for Boston Moms, Angie also enjoys writing in, and translating Boston Moms articles into, Spanish — she is a firm believer in ensuring every Boston mom feels like she/they belong here!