So it’s the end of another year and a crazy one at that! Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are right around the corner. I know I’ve been stressed out this year and I’m sure you have too. When I think of holidays I think of family gatherings and speaking of stress, family gatherings are great at giving us plenty of it.

Be honest with yourself, what do you want to do for the holidays this year? Decide who you want to spend time with and how much time you want to spend traveling or if you want to spend the most time at home with your partner or kids. Don’t feel guilty for protecting your peace, you already know what you’re dreading and what you’re looking forward to. If big crowds are not your thing (especially during covid) this year is the perfect year for keeping it lowkey and staying home with your family or whoever you enjoy time with most.

  1. Decide if your partner will spend the holiday with your family or theirs.

I’ve visited my parents alone the past few times because it honestly gave me more to worry about if my fiance came with. I didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable situation. I know it sucks going separate ways because you want holiday memories with each other but wouldn’t you rather enjoy yourselves? There are no rules just because it’s a holiday. You can decide to stay home together and do your own thing, attend different get togethers or go with each other or even split the day between your families if they live close enough. Try not to pressure your partner into doing something they don’t want to, if they take one for the team and attend your family event, give them some space from everyone and make sure you do something you both will enjoy. I’m getting ahead of myself there, let’s move on!

2. Have a game plan.

Write down what your ideal day would look like and then adjust your schedule to fit more of that. Decide when you will arrive and how long you will stay, if there’s something you want to do like go shopping, grab coffee, watch a good holiday movie or football game, put that in your schedule! Make sure you know who will be at the get together and what kind of activities are planned. You’ll want to know if you need to leave before the drama queen arrives or before your mom makes everyone play all of her favorite games and before you know it, it’s dark outside. Don’t feel guilty. Stick to the plan! You’ll have a much better time, I promise.

3. Have a buddy.

This might be the most important thing on here for difficult families. I only make the 4 hour drive to my parents for a holiday when my favorite sister or sister in law will be there. No shame! If no one you genuinely enjoy being around will be there, stay home please. Have a buddy! Someone you’re so excited to spend time with that nothing else matters. Another super important reason to have a buddy is that if you’re traveling, you need a safe and comfortable place to sleep at night and if your buddy has their own home, perfect! If not, get a hotel. I know I need to put cozy clothes on, drink, eat, or do whatever I actually enjoy and talk in private with my sisters. You could drive or fly in a day early or stay a day late to do something fun with your favorite people before you’re knee deep in frosting cookies while sitting in awkward silence with your mom that you only see twice a year. You get the point, no buddy = no fun.

4. Do something you enjoy.

My mom started a tradition of decorating gingerbread houses the day after Thanksgiving and I did that for the first time last year with some other family members. I happen to think decorating gingerbread houses is fun so I plan on stopping by for that this year. I also enjoy going shopping with my fiance and siblings, grabbing coffee at my favorite shop back in my hometown, and staying up late at my sisters house watching movies and talking so I plan on doing those things as well. The point is, don’t let everyone else call the shots. Make sure you’re having a good time too. I know there’s covid this year, but some ideas would be to go see a Christmas lights show (some do drive through lights), play a winter sport, buy things for kids in need (Operation Christmas child, Toys for Tots, find a local Angel Tree), or make a dessert or side dish for everyone if you enjoy cooking.

5. Stick to your routine as much as possible.

If you don’t have a strict daily routine, it’s okay. Control what you can. If you wake up at 7am everyday and drink coffee while you watch good morning America, I suggest you keep doing that. It will help keep you calm and set the pace for the rest of the day. You don’t want to feel rushed, overtired and irritable because your schedule was thrown off. If you workout everyday, look up a gym in the area to go to. If you go workout everyday I assume you care a little more about what you’ll be eating while away from home. Find out what kind of food will be served so you can choose what to eat or bring your own healthy dish option for everyone and when your Grandma is trying to stuff pie in your face, ask for a slice to go or say you’re full and you’ll eat some later. Get some sleep! It’s okay to be a party pooper, don’t stay up way later than you usually do.

6. Set and keep your boundaries.

You know your family and you know 2020 has been a heck of a ride. Someone will bring up covid, the election or racism. On top of that someone will bring up the usual stuff that drives you crazy, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? When’s your wedding? How’s work? When are you having kids? Why didn’t your boyfriend/girlfriend come with you? Can we take that picture a hundred more times? Ugh. I’m annoyed just typing this. It’s so important to set boundaries with family. I love the idea of letting people know ahead of time that you won’t be involved in conversations about something. That could be the election results, wearing masks, your brother/sisters personal life, your personal life, fill in the blank. Make yourself clear that you will walk away or leave if someone breaks your boundaries. You don’t have to listen to that. You also don’t have to be in every picture or play every game or hang out with people you don’t even like.

7. Make a budget.

This is obviously important for Christmas but even buying food or decorations can get out of control. If you’re already following a budget, a holiday doesn’t cancel that out. Plan ahead of time how much money is for gifts or exactly which gifts you’re buying, money for food, gas, hotel, plane tickets, and anything else. This year I’m planning my wedding so gifts will be cheaper or more creative and that’s okay! Pinterest is great for DIY or cheap gift ideas.

8. Try something new.

I love the idea I mentioned above on ways to give gifts to kids or families in need. You can even do this for a family at your church or in your neighborhood. Another fun idea is to host a friendsgiving, ugly sweater party or New Years party. You could do a gift exchange with your best friends, go see a play or go to a parade. I get it, some people love traditions, but it’s good to mix it up a little! Doing the same thing every year can get old pretty fast. You could spend Christmas in Florida or skip out on the gathering this year because of covid and do Christmas in July with all your favorite siblings or friends. Again, there’s no rules so why not try something new.

9. Just say no.

People assume families must spend every holiday together and to be honest, it annoys me. You don’t have to do anything that your family or friends are expecting you to do or what the social norm is. If you don’t want to visit your parents, just tell them no. If you don’t like decorating your house for every new month or listening to christmas music, don’t do it. If you would rather eat pizza for Thanksgiving than spend 5 hours cooking food your kids won’t even eat, order pizza! If you can’t afford to pile presents under the tree this year, just get a few. You can let your kids or spouse know what to expect. Do what is best for you and your family, not what everyone else is doing. Listen to your body, are you tired? overwhelmed? angry? Say no to the things that are making you feel that way. There is no good reason to burn ourselves out doing everything we hate to make everyone else happy.

10. Ask for help.

There is no shame in asking for help. If you are sad because you can’t afford the gifts your kids want, ask your close family members or close friends if they can buy 1 or 2, I would be more than happy to buy my nephews or niece or friends kids a gift. If you need a babysitter while you clean or cook, get one. If you need someone to help you clean, cook or decorate, just ask! Ask for coffee or wine if you need some. Ask for someone to pitch in buying the food or drinks. Holidays are stressful enough, be kind to yourself and ask for help.