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The Exhausted Mother’s Advent: 5 Simple Ways to Find Joy this Advent

Advent wreath with a single purple candle lit. The candles are in a brown and silver holder and nested in a circle of green branches.

Advent is supposed to be a peaceful time of preparation for Christmas. But what happens when the pressure to create traditions and live liturgically start to make your heart anything but peaceful?

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Brace yourselves: Advent is coming. If you spend even a little time on Catholic social media, you’ve no doubt seen the never-ending posts and stories about everyone’s plans for liturgical living during the season of preparation.

Wreaths and candles.

Mary on the Mantle.

St. Nicholas Day goodies left in wee shoes.

Devotionals and journals.

Daily Reflections.


Books to read aloud to little ones.

Beautiful purple and rose decorations.

The list feels endless.

With so many ideas on how to live liturgically during Advent, it’s easy to find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to make the four weeks before Christmas just as memorable as Christmas itself.

And suppose you’re already overwhelmed and exhausted (will the mamas with young children please stand up?). The idea of adding anything else to your already hectic life may sound as appealing as a rotten tangelo in your sneaker on St. Nicholas’ Day.

So how do we avoid falling into the temptation to do more than we should when everyone else seems to have it all together?

How do we live with the guilt when our Advent season doesn’t live up to the standards we have set for ourselves?

My suggestion?

Let’s just not do all the things this year.

That may sound scandalous, but I promise that I have a method to my madness.

Making Advent an Idol

I love the Church’s liturgical seasons as much as the next gal. Over the last seven years since my conversion, I have made it a goal every Lent and Advent to come up with a list of penances and devotions to help me dive head-first into the spirit of each season.

And every year, I end up feeling disappointed and defeated.

The pressure to make every liturgical season as spiritually fruitful as humanly possible only increased when I became a mother. Mom guilt and overzealousness simply do not mix, my friends.

The result? I start strong and keep everything up for about the first two weeks. By week three, I’m so tired and frustrated by my plans being thwarted that I just give up and do the bare minimum anyway.

I always have the best of intentions. The Church gives us these seasons for a reason. They invite us to contemplate the truths and traditions of our faith more deeply. We are given opportunities to make what we believe in our hearts tangible through devotions and rich liturgies.

Yet, it is so easy to turn these gifts into idols. We can view these seasons as a “get holy quick” scheme. A pious New Year’s resolution that will surely take away our vices and make us into saints. A measure of our holiness based on how many traditions and rituals we can squeeze into a few weeks leading up to a huge feast day.

The purpose of Advent is to quiet our hearts and minds in preparation for the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. When the rest of society is running around in a peppermint-scented frenzy prepping for the holidays, we are invited to be still and silent. We are called to imitate Our Lady’s strong, unwavering spirit as we sit with her and St. Joseph while they prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.

Despite these beautiful truths, I find myself dreading Advent a little more each year. The memories of failed attempts at liturgical living nag at me as I try to plan which books to read and how I’m going to get my little ones to obediently participate in nightly prayers around a sacramental fire hazard.

But this year, I am calling it early. I’m entering this season with tired eyes and a yearning heart. And I’m praying that’s enough.

Changing How I View Celebrating Advent.

My goal for this year’s Advent is radically different. I’m simply not going to do much. I’m going to read a little, but I’m not going to give myself a hard deadline to finish by. I’m going to try and pray more, but I’m not going to pressure myself to make my prayer time the quiet, meditative experience I often long for. I’m just not in a season to make that happen, and that’s okay.

I’m going to focus on where I am this year. I’m a busy mom working from home with two small children. I’m pregnant and exhausted, and I don’t need to feel bad if I’m not glowing like all of the images of Our Lady that grace my phone while I scroll social media. Instead, I’m going to try and remember that I am exactly where I need to be.

God gave me this life and vocation for a reason. There are lessons to be learned from the daily tantrums and mountains of dirty diapers. They’re hard lessons, but they’re my mine. They make life more challenging, and I do not need to take on devotions if they will make me even more frustrated and overwhelmed than I am already.

So this year, I’m going to lean back and take everything in. I’m going to breathe and remember that the first Advent season was not exactly a picnic for the Holy Family either. And I’m going to take comfort in the knowledge that God will provide, even when the night is dark, and it’s hard to see what lies ahead.

The Catholic Mama’s Guide to Avoiding Advent Overwhelm.

Without further ado, here are my top tips, suggestions, and traditions for keeping Advent simple, fruitful, and, most importantly, stress-free.

Advent graphic. The words "The Catholic Mama's Guide to Keeping Advent Simple, Fruitful, and Stress-Free." set over a soft purple and pink background. A picture of an Advent wreath with a single lit candle is centered in the image.

1. Lower. Your. Expectations.

I really cannot stress this one enough. If you’re going into Advent thinking about everything you’ll get done and how fruitful your efforts are going to be, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I’ve done this year after year, and this year, my goal is literally to do the bare minimum.

Now, bear in mind that everyone’s “bare minimum” is going to look different. What feels overwhelming to a working mama of little ones might not be overwhelming to a single person or a mother with older children.

Examine your plans and traditions, reflect on which ones have caused stress in Advents-past. The ones you continue to do because you feel like you have to, or else you’re not celebrating Advent properly. Then toss them out the window. Do not let yourself be worried about all of the things you think you should be doing, and focus on the things that actually lead your heart more deeply into the spirit of the Advent season.


  • Remember the reason for the season. Advent is a time to prepare and slow down.
  • Remind yourself that your family is not out to ruin your plans. They have their limits too.
  • It’s okay if you don’t have anything worth showing on Instagram. You do not have to prove anything to anyone.
  • You do not have to have everything figured out. It’s alright if this season isn’t what you pictured.
  • Give yourself some grace. Motherhood is hard. Liturgical living is hard. Remember that you are doing your best.

2. Choose devotions that meet you where you are.

I’ve tried journaling for years. I bought devotionals and guided prayer books until my bookshelf was full. And do you know what every single one of those journals has in common?

They are all unfinished.

I love to write. I love translating all the thoughts bouncing around in my head into words. But I am terrible at journaling. For years, I wasted time and money on these books because all of my favorite Catholic influencers were either writing or promoting them, and I thought that if it worked for them, then these journals would have to work for me too.


Do not let yourself be pressured into taking something on that doesn’t suit you or the season you are in. Choose something that will not add to your load. You have enough going on already without trying to meet others’ expectations. Run your own race. Crawl slowly towards the finish line if you have to. You are not competing with anyone on the road to holiness.


3. Do something for yourself.

Since getting married and having children, I have steadily gone from choosing devotions that would help bring me closer to God to focusing solely on what I can do to get my whole family to participate. As a mother, it is part of my vocation to help bring the mysteries of our faith into my domestic Church. However, we must also make sure that we are not doing so to the detriment of our own souls.

I’ve said it a thousand times – you cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot expect to lead your spouse or children to Christ if you’re not nourishing your relationship with Jesus. It’s hard to lead by example when you’re not practicing what you preach.

This Advent, I encourage you to choose at least one devotion that is strictly for yourself. Make time to pray the Rosary. Read a good book. Pray the St. Andrew novena throughout your day. Pray on it and pick something that speaks straight to your heart.

Treat yourself during this season. Your heart and soul deserve it.


  • Take a walk as often as you can. Get outside and get away from all the hustle and bustle.
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours with Sing the Hours. All the beauty of the Office of Readings without having to navigate a missal.
  • Go to bed early. Those dishes will be there tomorrow. Allow yourself time to rest – I know, easier said than done.
  • Ask for help. Challenge yourself to reach out to others for help with the kids so you can have a moment to yourself.
  • Pray the Rosary. A decade here, a few Ave’s there. They add up. Turn to your Mother throughout your day.

4. Involve your family in the process.

The control freak in me says that I am the only one capable of selecting the perfect family activities for Advent. After all, who better to plan all the things than mom?? I’ll let you guess how my family responds to all of my well-laid plans…

I’ve learned that the best way to get a spouse or a toddler to agree to something is actually to show them respect and ask for their opinions – yes, it has taken me a long time to figure that out. I’m not proud.

So this year, I am going to go over my ideas with them and get their opinions. I will see which activities my husband wants to lead. I will come up with little things for my oldest to do with me so we can bond over the anticipation of the Christ Child’s coming at Christmas. I’ll make extra time to sing Advent hymns to my toddler while we snuggle before bed. It’s the little things that lead our loved ones to Christ.


  • Attend a penance service as a family. Make plans so you and your spouse can go to Confession to prepare your hearts for Christmas.
  • Make an Advent wreath and have your kids help you gather the branches and materials.
  • Put together a gift for a child or family in need. Let your little ones help you choose what to include.
  • Use battery-powered candles for your Advent wreath so your babies can participate safely.
  • Talk with your spouse and decide on something the two of you can do as a couple. Whether it’s praying the Rosary or watching those Rejoice videos I mentioned, find something you both can agree on and stick to it.

5. Breathe.

This one is easier said than done. But remember, God doesn’t care if you don’t do all the things for Advent. Living liturgically is lovely, but it’s not a requirement for getting into heaven. You are not a bad Catholic if you don’t complete everything on your list over the next four weeks.

I would go as far as saying that God values our silence more than our laundry list of prayers and penances we impose on ourselves. If our to-do lists are causing us to focus inward, we are missing the whole point of the season.

So this year, when you are tempted to fall into patterns of self-loathing when your plans fall apart, take those moments to simply breathe. Offer the little trials and duties up to Our Lady for special intentions. Make a list of people and situations you want to pray for and keep it somewhere you can see it. Ponder the love of the Father when you’re tempted to despair.

Mama, you’re tough, but Advent doesn’t have to be.

I hope at least a few of these suggestions have inspired you, but remember that it’s okay if none of them speak to you. Embrace where you’re at this Advent, and don’t let the pressures from the rest of the world steal your peace. You’re doing the best you can, and God knows your heart. He knows you are trying your best to know, love, and serve Him.

Remember that your goal is heaven, not a social media-worthy mantle display. Your Advent traditions may look different from everyone else’s; heck, you may not have any at all. Do what works for you and your family. I promise you will enter more fully into the season of preparation that way than if you try to take on what everyone else seems to be doing.

Remember to Whom you belong. Jesus is waiting for you exactly where you are, and He does not expect you to prove your love by taking on more than your heart can handle.

Rest in His presence this Advent season. You’ll find that is more than enough.

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