Negotiating holidays: essential advice for women

The table is set with formal dishes for a holiday dinner. A very fancy cupcake sits on the plate in the foreground.

In case you need to hear this: it’s not your job to make the holidays perfect. Perfection is not only unattainable, but its pursuit is exhausting and demoralizing for most women. The good news is that there are ample opportunities to flex your negotiation muscles in the leadup to this pressure-filled time of year.

A number of years ago, I stopped pretending I was a perfect hostess. I’m a busy woman who doesn’t bake and doesn’t  care if my house is spotless 364 days a year. But in the leadup to the big holiday, I would have a meltdown while trying to buy the perfect presents, make the perfect meal, bake everyone’s favorite treats, and demonstrate what a perfect hostess, mother, wife, and daughter/in-law I was. The truth is, I am none of those things. I’m an ambitious woman who defines myself by what I contribute to the world, not what I contribute inside my house. I needed to stop pretending, but also give up on the guilt of backing away from “treasured family traditions”. I wrote about that experience in depth a few months ago.

But now, we are a mere week away from Christmas. And whether you celebrate that day or any other of the 20+ events that are celebrated around the world at this time of year, chances are, if you are a woman, your workload is getting heavier and heavier every day.

What is negotiable?

I like to look at life as one big negotiation. I see opportunities everywhere, and I want you to start seeing them too. Now let’s go back for a moment to the definition of what a negotiation is: a process where two or more parties try to agree on a mutually beneficial outcome. So any time you are asked, or expected, to deliver on something, that is an opportunity for you to negotiate. With that in mind, here are 10 different places where you might consider negotiating for what you want or need this holiday season:

  1. Where the holiday dinner is held. Just because you have hosted for the last 12 years does NOT mean you need to host again. Can it be at your sister’s home? What about a restaurant? We are headed to The Keg. It actually costs almost the same amount, and I don’t have to clean my house.
  2. How long will the family event will be? Does it really need to be a marathon (with breakfast expected for those guests who enjoy a bit too much of the spiked eggnog)? Or could you invite family over with the invitation to stay from 11-2 or 5-8?
  3. Who is preparing the meal? Could it be a potluck? Skip the Dishes?
  4. Who gets to be invited? Do you really need to invite all the cousins? Does everyone even want to attend?
  5. What is the plan for gifts? Everyone gets a gift for everyone? Gift exchange? Gifts just for kids under 18? What is the price limit?
  6. Who is arranging for transportation? Are you responsible for picking up grandma while also making dinner? Who is coordinating the pickups and drop offs for the members of your family who no longer drive?
  7. Who is cleaning your house? Hint: it doesn’t have to be you. It can be a service, your family, or you could decide that it really doesn’t matter. Invite the dust bunnies to dinner. They don’t bite.
  8. What baking is actually essential? Do you really need to make 12 varieties of cookies? Or are there 2 special ones you need to make, but you can buy a tray of assorted dainties from the women’s group at the local church.
  9. Which traditions are worth keeping? Just because you’ve hand-painted name tags for dinner each year for a decade doesn’t mean you have to do it ever again. What are the tasks that take a ton of effort for you to execute? Are they really that important? Do your family members really value them?
  10. When do you get some down time? Holidays are supposed to be relaxing. But for a lot of women, we go back to work in the new year, feeling like we need a holiday from our holiday. Do you need to say yes to every invitation? Or can you plan some down time to make sure you recover, relax, and fill your cup…you know, enjoy your holiday?

How to negotiate

Now that you’re starting to see all of the opportunities to relieve the pressure cooker of the holidays, here is the 5 step process you can use to negotiate during your holiday season.

  1. Clarify your values. What are your priorities at this time of year? Spending time with loved ones? Recovering from a busy year? Making memories? Participating in spiritual practices? Reliving traditions? Resetting your health? Identify the one most important purpose of the holiday season for you, with your second and third most important values also noted.
  2. Identify the problem. What is causing you the most anxiety? And why? What is about the situation that doesn’t work for you? How does it misalign to your values?
  3. Choose your preferred alternative. Start by identifying all the ways that situation could be different. Who could help? How could you rewrite the script? What could you drop? Consider all of the options that align to your most important values.
  4. Have the conversation. Pull together whoever needs to be involved and state your case. “I’m not comfortable cooking Christmas dinner again this year. It’s a lot of work, and it prevents me from actually spending time with the people I love. I spend all of cocktail hour in the kitchen and then I’m too hot and tired to enjoy myself once dinner is served. I’m open to hosting, but only if we order in, or someone else does the cooking. If someone else is open to hosting, I’d be happy to bring my scalloped potatoes.” Declare the problem, identify your values that aren’t being honoured, and suggest options. Be open to creative solutions.
  5. Release the guilt. Chances are strong that your family has no idea that this has been an issue for you. Putting it out in the open means giving them a chance to take on the thing that you don’t enjoy. You don’t need to feel guilty when you’ve done nothing wrong.

Holidays always seem great – in August, when there is no pressure to deliver. But if you’re aware of what’s not working and negotiate better solutions with your family, you too can enjoy your holiday. Try out this approach and let me know in the comments below what changes you are negotiating this holiday season.

Keep learning!

If you are interested in growing your negotiation skills, sign up below to get my weekly newsletter, which features information, education, and learning opportunities that can help you negotiate more effectively. It’s free and you can opt out at any time. In the meantime, you can read more of my blogs on negotiation.

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