THE MOM’S SPACE: Finding joy during the holidays

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Why is finding joy so hard during the holidays? Well, let’s see…there’s the increased pressure and expectations from family. Grief from loss. Pain from past trauma. Anxiety from worrying. Stress from the never-ending to-do list. Exhaustion from all of it. Add the guilt and shame that tells us we “should” be enjoying “the most wonderful time of the year” and joy is a goner.

Asking ourselves what, who, where and how often unlocks the secret to finding our joy.

Ask WHAT and WHO:

  • What and Who is making me feel increased pressure?
  • What and Who is making me feel sad and disconnected?
  • What and Who is causing me stress?

Once we’re able to discover the answers to these questions, we can uncover where the lack of joy might be coming from.


  • Where do I feel the most expectations?
  • Where do I feel the most anxious?
  • Where do I feel the most guilt and shame (hint: hearing “should”)?

Discovering where the feelings are showing up allows us to pause and determine whether our current path is taking us away from joy or moving us toward it. Setting realistic expectations, implementing empathy, and creating boundaries always does the latter.

Setting Realistic Expectations: This prevents the cycle of self-loathing, anger, sadness, and shame. For example, let’s say your mom makes passive aggressive comments about your parenting (or cooking, appearance, work, etc.) every time she visits. Before she visits, try saying to yourself, “I can fully expect Mom to make passive aggressive comments about my parenting.” Then, when she makes her comments, because you already knew they were coming, they sting less and stop you from going headfirst into a downward spiral. It will also allow you to be more empathetic to her and to yourself.

Implementing Empathy: When we’re able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can remove ourselves from their “stuff.” That might sound like, “Mom, you feel frustrated by how I parent because it’s not the way you parented me. You’re worried I’m doing it wrong.” (Note: it is important to be empathetic AND hold the other person accountable for their behaviors.) The best part about implementing empathy for others is that it also allows for validation of our feelings. Try saying to yourself, “It makes sense that I feel angry and rejected when mom makes her comments. The truth is, it’s her stuff, it’s not about me.” Validating your feelings and seeking truth makes it much easier to create healthy boundaries.

Creating Boundaries: Boundaries are vital to connecting with your joy (see The Mom’s Space November article for more about boundary setting). With your mom, it might sound like, “Mom, it makes sense and is OK for you to feel frustrated because I don’t parent like you did. What is not OK is for you to criticize the way I parent. I’m doing the best I can.” Being gentle with ourselves it vital.

The reality is that, more often than not, we’ll fail at setting expectations, implementing empathy, and creating boundaries. And that’s OK. When it happens, instead of saying, “Ugh, I should have ___”, try saying, “It’s okay. I cannot expect myself to get it right all the time. I can try again.” This self-acceptance and self-love are the secret to opening the gateway to the path of joy. The joy is within us. Once we connect with it by considering what, who, where, and how, we give ourselves permission to pause, change course, and walk toward joy whomever we are with and in whatever we are doing, especially during the holidays.


MOLLIE GEE is a clinical mental health counselor, mother of two, and owner of The Nest Counseling. Follow her on Instagram @thechubbydebutante.