We have all been looking forward to some joy in the last few months. With the raging pandemic, contentious election, and recurring evidence of racism all over the news, we are ready for a bit of sparkle now. We hope the holiday season will be just what we need to close out this rough year on a high note.
As a pediatrician, wife, and mom of five, I have been pulled in many directions this year. Besides my regular duties at home, I have also been a teacher, tutor, and entertainer for my kids. On top of it all, I have been dealing with securing PPE and ways to keep myself and my staff safe from COVID-19 at work. It’s been a crazy time. So, I am looking forward to spending some quiet time at home this holiday season with my family, even if it is just for a few days.
Right now, I work in a private outpatient pediatrics office. This year, my office is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I was able to take a few days off before Christmas. I have not always been so lucky. Trying to balance family time during medical school, residency, and working for a larger practice was not easy. I have never really enjoyed the holiday moments because I found myself either studying or working during those times.
The holidays are just not the same when you are a woman in medicine.
So, how do you celebrate while trying to balance work and “real life”?
Looking on the bright side, COVID has limited a lot of the planning needed this year. My family will not be traveling or hosting big holiday gatherings like we used to do. But for any regular year, it is essential to start planning for the holidays months in advance. To take time off over the holidays, I request it months in advance – before anyone else snatches it up. I plan my family’s travel, hotel, etc., again, months ahead of time. For holiday dinners at our home, I list everything we will need a few weeks ahead to be sure nothing is missing. I also start my holiday shopping at least a month in advance. That allows me to take advantage of sales and be sure that no one is left out. It is never a perfect science by any means. When I start to make timelines and lists well before I need them, it saves me a whole lot of stress. I highly encourage you to do the same.
Outsource what you can
As a woman in medicine, I know how easy it is to have the mindset of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” But, I had to resist this urge a lot, especially when it came to things around the house. It is important to realize when you have reached your limit and do not have the time or energy to do something yourself. Hire someone to help out – whether it is for cleaning, decorating, cooking, etc. Think about hiring a babysitter when you just need a little time to clear your head. Do not be afraid to outsource whenever you need help.
Even before COVID, online shopping has been a lifesaver for me. I used to love strolling through the shops, but the busier I have become, the less time I have to waste in the mall. Internet shopping makes it a lot easier to get those Christmas lists checked off every year.
Ask for gift requests
You might worry that this will send you down a rabbit hole, but I have found it is easier to shop for others when I have an idea of what they want. It is easier to pick something from a list than to play a guessing game and end up buying their 20th Bath & Body Works set. Make things easier on yourself this year. Since you won’t be seeing others in person, use COVID-19 as an excellent excuse to send lots of electronic gift cards.
Don’t spoil your kids
Believe me; I know how easy it is to shower your kids with tons of gifts to make up for the time you spend away from them. But, try your best to avoid the urge. Focus on spending quality time (no matter how little time it is) rather than spoiling them with gifts. Shower them with experiences rather than toys they’ll only play with once or twice. Use the holidays as an opportunity to teach them to be givers by volunteering, donating their used toys, and giving gifts to others.
Do things as a family
Since I don’t have a lot of time to spend with my family over the holidays, I try to make that time we do have together as memorable as possible. I involve my kids and my husband in the planning. That way, we are doing something together, and a burden is also lifted off my shoulders. I also have the kids help out in the kitchen with meals and making their desserts. It might end up being a huge mess, but lots of memories are made.
Create holiday traditions
If your family doesn’t already have your own holiday traditions, this year is a great year to create a few, especially since COVID-19 has forced us to be together at home a whole lot more than we planned. Putting up Christmas decorations, picking and decorating our fresh Christmas tree, watching the Christmas parade, reading the Christmas story, visiting a drive-through light festival – those are some of the traditions our family holds every holiday season.
Stay in touch
The holidays can be a joyful time for many people, but it can also be quite depressing for many, especially this year. So keep in touch with family and friends for emotional support through all of this. Stay connected to your spiritual background if you have one to help make it through this time. Spend quiet time alone just to reflect or to motivate yourself to keep going.
The craziness of 2020 is far from over. Things will be quite different this holiday season, but it can still be a rewarding time. I hope these tips help you to make it all work and to find some rest and peace through it all.
Petra McEwan, MD is a practicing Pediatrician and Certified Breastfeeding Specialist in South Florida, where she lives with her husband and five kids. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. Her website is http://www.wifeymommydoc.com, and she can be followed on Instagram @wifeymommydoc.