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Guilt-Free Holidays: A Parents’ Guide to the Holiday Season

December 19, 2023

Parenting during the holiday season is not easy. Stress, guilt, and fear can arise from various sources during this time. But do not fret, parents! Guilt-free holidays are within your grasp.

Lia Pezzato is a therapist who specializes in helping marriages and families. She has a plan to help you manage guilt and stress during the holidays and beyond.


infographic for guilt-free holidays titled top holiday stressors for parents. 1 extra shopping/holiday tasks, 2 keeping family healthy, 3 household finances, 4 planning for family gatherings, 5 making special holiday meals, and 6 criticism from family members. source: c.s. mott children's hospital national poll on children's health, 2021

Infographic by Council for Relationships

Guilt-free holidays begin with self-evaluations

Joy, kindness, and appreciation are typical emotions at this time of year when families come together for holiday festivities. However, not everyone acknowledges the stress and guilt that can also be present during the holiday season.

Parents can feel stressed about what gifts they can afford, especially during gift-giving and travel. Many parents experience feelings of guilt as they hope to give their children a memorable holiday. Compared to the general population, parents report being more stressed than grandparents and non-parents.

A parent’s stress level can even diminish the joy of the holiday season for their children.

Having guilt-free holidays first requires identifying what is stressing you out.

A 2021 survey by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found the following are the top holiday stressors for parents:

  1. Extra holiday shopping and holiday tasks
  2. Keeping their family healthy
  3. Managing their household finances
  4. Planning for family gatherings
  5. Preparing special holiday meals
  6. Receiving criticism from other family members about their holiday plans

Another key stressor is breaking routines. That same study found that 23% of moms and 14% of dads get stressed when their kids are home more often during the holiday break. More than a third of parents feel relieved when their children return to school.

Unsurprisingly, being stressed out has negative impacts on your overall health. Many people engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms to relieve their stress. Stressed-out parents are likelier to reach for a pack of cigarettes or an extra glass of wine.

And then there is stress-shopping (sometimes known as “retail therapy”). Some parents make their money worries worse by frequently buying things online or ordering takeout using apps like GrubHub.

To put it plainly, to have guilt-free holidays, first look inward and identify your stressors.


When gift-giving cramps your plan for guilt-free holidays

Some children are happy with just receiving presents. However, parents may feel pressured to give their children numerous gifts or expensive items.

Guilt can fester into many feelings. Some may feel as though they are an inadequate parent or are not providing their children with what they need or deserve. Some may feel ashamed of their circumstances and feel lesser because of them.

However, I encourage you to challenge this thinking and ask you to consider where those thoughts and feelings are deriving from.

Our society begins marketing the holiday season months before the holiday season even begins. We see sales such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and even sales for Christmas in July. We expect people to spend a lot of money on gifts for their loved ones. Material possessions and money do not demonstrate love, despite what society may tell us.

Though gifts can be fun and exciting, I challenge you to ask yourself what you love about the holidays.

Most parents report enjoying their time with their family and loved ones.  They bring up parties and gatherings with their loved ones. They revel in the common holiday occurrences that do not occur during other times of the year.

Rarely are gifts and material items mentioned when people can also reflect on their childhood holidays.


My guild-free holidays start and end with creating a loving environment

As a child, I loved visiting my Aunt’s house next door for Christmas Eve parties. Those memories are the ones I remember the most. I looked forward to the joy of sitting with family members I did not see often and playing with my cousins. I remember those moments more than the material items like gifts.

As I grew older, I had conversations with my parents. They shared with me the stress and guilt they experienced. They tried to ensure that my siblings and I received the same number of gifts as other children. They sometimes avoided paying bills to ensure our holidays were memorable.

As an adult, I felt shocked, as I recalled never expecting that much as a child.

Being a good parent is not about money but creating a loving and supportive environment for your children.


Guilt-Free Holidays: A Parent's Guide to the holiday Season author

Lia Pezzato, MFT, (pictured here) is a CFR Staff Therapist.

About the Author

Lia Pezzato, MFT,  is a therapist at the Council for Relationships who works with New Jersey and Pennsylvania clients. Go to her bio page to ask about this blog on grief-free holidays or Lia’s availability for new clients.

See our Therapist & Psychiatrist Directory to find a different CFR therapist or psychiatrist near you.


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