How to Be Fully Present for Your Family This Christmas (Even When You’re Exhausted)

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This guest post – How to Be Fully Present for Your Family This Christmas – is written by Toni Nieuwhof. Toni and Carey Nieuwhof met in law school and have been married for three decades. Toni, a former divorce attorney, is the author of Before You Split: Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage

Mention Christmas, and regardless of what pops to mind, you know this one thing: It’s intense.

Whatever you’re feeling as you head into the holidays tends to intensify. If you’ve leaned in to the spirit of Advent, your peace or your joy amplifies. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, the Christmas season tends to bring more pain.

All of this is even more true for pastors and leaders in the church.  

Suppose you’ve been in church leadership for even a few years. In that case, you know what it’s like to pour your heart into creating a meaningful Advent celebration, only to personally crash into the holidays. You’ve had to deal with the post-adrenaline slump.  

But this year, in particular, has been taxing. You’ve made a change or two to accommodate, but you’re still noticing symptoms of your stress. What now? 

Your present to your loved ones is your presence, but you need to have something in you to give. You don’t want to drift from interaction to interaction this year over the holidays.

So, what actions can you take now to get what you wish for this year?

To be fully present is the greatest present you can give your family this Christmas. - Toni Nieuwhof Click To Tweet

Sharpen Up Your Conflict Skills

If you’ve been married even a minute, you know you’re more irritable when you’re exhausted. Once irritability opens the gate, it’s like you both get on the carousel and go ‘round and ‘round till you feel like you’re ‘done.’

One Christmas a number of years ago, Carey and I were excited about setting up our tree. A real one.

We discovered how strongly we each felt about a fir versus a spruce tree at the farm.

Then we went on to argue even more:

  • Seven feet versus eight.
  • No, it’s not cool to trim the tree in the kitchen even though it’s -20 outside. So go outside please. 
  • And no, the ornaments don’t look right when you hang them that way.

It was more sparring than party. 

Before you know it, all the activities, prep, and decisions set you up for conflict.

  • Who let our tree dry into a stick tree a week before Christmas?
  • Why did you say ‘yes’ to that party?
  • Can the kids watch this Christmas movie?
  • Who’s coming for Christmas dinner, and more on point, who’s cleaning up the house before they get here?

Decisions and differences may abound, especially when you’re pressured. 

We can all use a little help bringing our best selves to marriage conflict when our reserves are depleted.

Carey and I have learned a lot over the years. That’s why I created this cheat sheet with prompts for a better ending to your next disagreement.

Maybe there’s someone you know who could use this, too.

Download the Ten Ways to Stop Your Next Fight cheat sheet here.

Fix Your Calendar. It’s Too Tight

A wise business mentor (to whom I’m not married) once told me to cap the scheduled portion of my workday, including meetings and personal appointments, at 75%. Why? Because you won’t be able to foresee everything that deserves your attention. 


On a regular basis, my husband Carey caps the scheduled portion of his week at well below 50%.

Feel free to schedule that 25% or 50% into your calendar and give it a name. Maybe “leadership development” or “Advent” or “sanity.”

One day you might turn that into a sustainable practice, but start by using it as a tool for this season. 

What would it take between today and Christmas to create your 25%? Especially if your calendar looks too tight, take a hard second look and delegate, cancel, or defer less-mission-critical events until you’ve reached that margin.

Once you do it, your next breath in will feel different, like a spacious place. You’ll approach your work and your holidays with more clarity, peace, and focus as a result.

Allow me to speak these words on behalf of your family: Stop right here and do it now. 


Another wise mentor I know (to whom I am married) counsels what I’ve found to be the single best way to ensure that the work only I can do gets shipped. That is, I tackle my vital work when I’m at my optimal energy levels during my Green Zone. It means any creative work on my schedule must be done before lunch.

Not sure what your Green Zone is? 

If you haven’t read Carey’s book, At Your Bestgive yourself (and the loved ones in your life) a gift that I promise keeps on giving when you implement his advice. While he’s had enthusiastic reviews from the outset of the book’s release, we recently heard from one seasoned leader who said At Your Best helped him regain sanity in his professional and family life while also completing his Ph. D.

Do yourself a favor and get your copy here.

Give Yourself the Self Care You’ve Been Ignoring

Remember that blank space you now have in your calendar? That space allows you to show love to someone who needs it: You.

What is the one life-giving change for your heart, body, mind, and soul that you now don’t have an excuse to put off? Taking an afternoon nap? Getting in an unhurried workout? Taking a walk for the sole purpose of dreaming and beholding? Spending a whole afternoon with a friend? Having a few hours with that book instead of one? Making an effort to eat nourishing food instead of whatever’s there?

You know self-care isn’t selfish, but it keeps getting bumped off your schedule in the moment.
Don’t put it off any longer. Starting better self-care now will influence how you show up this Christmas. You’ll be building the reserves you need to bring enthusiasm into the room.

Starting better self-care now will influence how you show up this Christmas. - Toni Nieuwhof Click To Tweet

This Christmas, have the energy to be fully present and celebrate the people around you. To see the very image of your savior in them. To enter each room with the outward-looking focus of “Hey, there you are!” instead of “Here I am (help!)”.

I hope you feel more life in your veins already.

Create a spacious oasis before Christmas. Find better endings to heated words. Find a way to fix your calendar. Renew your energy to see others and celebrate them.

May your heart be full this Christmas season.

Can't find the time to get it all done? Become a high-impact leader without burning out (or sacrificing yourself).

Without a new strategy and approach, it's easy to continue to:

  • Sacrifice family on the altar of work
  • Overcommit and underdeliver
  • Have no time for what you actually want to do
  • Struggle to get time off to refuel and relax

Worst of all, other people—other tasks, jobs, and projects—will continue to hijack your life.

It’s time to change that by implementing a strategy that works.

At Your Best is a proven strategy to get your time, energy, and priorities working in your favor. It's my step-by-step online course that will help you overcome stress, find a sustainable pace without losing impact, and be far more productive at work.

50,000+ leaders have used the At Your Best strategy to escape the stress spiral and finally do what they want to do—grow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.

Wow! I didn’t realize I was in desperate need of this message and system in my life and business. 

This message so profoundly impacted us, that we named our annual company theme, “At Our Best,” using Carey’s system and resources to strengthen our culture and make health a priority this year.”

Sean CannellFounder and CEO, Think Media

Whatever you choose to do with it is up to you. Join today for instant access.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.