Letting Go Of Control During The Holidays

I love the holidays. I love to decorate, to cook, and have our whole family over (plus the neighbors and our church friends and anyone else we can think of).

We’re a big Latino-Indian family, and we do holidays big too.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. These are happy times, indeed, and of course there’s a lot of food involved. Last year, I wrote an AMB post on my Thanksgiving traditions. Suffice to say, I will be getting up early, making a copious amount of delicious Indian food for breakfast, while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and that’s just 7 AM! By noon, our house will be filled with around twenty people, who will all be hungry to eat; there will be little kids scampering in every direction and more toys than you can imagine being strewn across the floor.

That’s when you know the party is really getting started.

That scene might have you stressed out already. I personally love it. The bigger, the better is our household motto. However, whether you are having a big or small Thanksgiving celebration, the holiday season can always come with a certain amount of stress. 

I’m a total type A gal, which means I want everything to be perfect. I want the house to look clean and pretty – it’s Thanksgiving, so there must be pumpkins everywhere, right?

I want the food to be just right (and since I normally host, I like to make it just the way I want it); and, as crazy as this might sound, I want all the guests to behave well and be kind to one another so we can have happy memories of all eating and laughing together over delicious food and drinks. 

Sound familiar to anyone else?

Inevitably, though, something goes wrong. People don’t come; someone’s in a bad mood; hurtful words are spoken; dishes are spilled; at least one kid is crying; somebody doesn’t like the food.

You fill in the blank. Things can get messy and, when they do, I start to feel like the holidays were a big failure. The chaos that often comes with friends and family can make me feel like all that time and energy and money into making a big holiday party has gone to waste, and I get sad or angry or both. 

Do this on repeat year after year, and eventually the holidays start to feel more like a drain than a joy.

I found myself feeling that way this past year. In fact, at one-point last year before the big Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself crying in my room, and I vowed right then and there to do things differently next year. Well, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I’ve been trying to take active steps to change – not my family or my circumstances, mind you, but rather my own heart.

I’ve especially appreciated a book by a friend of mine called Its All Under Control. The author, Jennifer Dukes Lee, has taught me a lot recently about what I can and what I can’t control in my life. For example, I can’t control how happy or cranky people will be around the Thanksgiving dinner table. But I can control my response to said-cranky people. I can be patient and kind and self-controlled, and I can ignore their ridiculous comments instead of trying to address each one.

I can’t control how many people show up. But I can choose to have joy and excitement for those that do gather around for the holidays, and I can make them feel special just for being there.

See what I mean?

In other words, if you asked my advice on how to handle stress this holiday season (and, trust me, I’m no expert), I would tell you that this year I’m letting go of the control and I’m going to try to enjoy people more for who they are (and not what I wish they could be).

I’m going to let more people cook in the kitchen with me and try my hardest not to freak out when the final dish looks different than the recipe (oh my, that happens a lot). I’m going to be okay if someone else decorates the dining table and lays out the plates and cups differently than I normally do. I’m not going to worry when my furniture or pantry items get shuffled around, or when people trek mud into the living rooms from their shoes after I just swept and mopped (that’s a story for another day).

No matter whether there’s chaos or calm, friendly or grumpy dinner guests, I’m going to choose joy instead of control this Thanksgiving.

I’m going to take another sip of cider (or wine, let’s be honest), take in a big breath of air and then smile at my husband, squeeze my kids and keep on enjoying the Thanksgiving feast.

This year, I want to end the holiday as joy-filled as I began the day, and that is something that I can control.

Michelle Reyes
Michelle Ami Reyes (PhD) is a midwest gal at heart, who loves all things football, BBQ, and a really good pair of boots. Having lived in Austin for over 9 years now, she keeps her days busy as a homeschool mom of two and as a cultural intelligence coach. When she's not doing consultant work (or is knee-deep in art projects and history lessons about ancient empires), you can find her reading an epic fantasy novel, doing ridiculously hard puzzles, or cheering on the Vikings. Follow her on Instagram at @michelleamireyes.


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