Ahh, the holidays.

Time to curl up with a hot drink and . . . drown in your insecurities as you compare your seasonal festivities to everyone on your social media feed!

I know I’m not the only one, right?

I’ve always loved this season: the colorful transition to fall, the fun and whimsy of Halloween, the warm and nostalgic family meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The joy in the air is palpable, and everything seems to feel a bit lighter.

But if you saw my house, you’d never know I had a festive bone in my body. I’m not that kind of momwith the cute, seasonal craft ideas or the Pinterest-perfect home. Aesthetics have just never been my strong suit.

This honestly never used to bother me. Instead, I always prided myself on my sense of adventure: whatever I lacked in creativity within the four walls of my home, I made up for with spontaneous fun out and about.

I was the kind of mom who was always Googling free local events and discovering new places to take the kids, and I felt secure in that identity.

Obviously, that screeched to a halt last year and left me with a bit of an internal crisis. Even now, as things are slowly feeling safer, I’m still trying to find my footing.

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In the meantime, I’ve realized thatfor the sake of my kids and my own mental healthI need to figure out how to bring my fun-loving nature into these four walls and lean into the joy of the holidays. This has quickly become a battle with my own fixed mindset.

I now recognize that “I’m not that kind of mom” is my security blanket, my way to not feel insecure as I scroll past post after post depicting pumpkin crafts and decorated porches and DIY costumes.

“That’s great for them,” I say to myself, in genuine admiration of their creativity. “That’s just not me, and that’s OK.” I try to waste as little emotional energy as possible on the comparison game, and I thought that line was serving me well. But I recently realized that in clinging to that narrow self-definition, I’m closing myself off from experiencing new joysjoys I desperately need after a long year-and-a-half.

I’ve embraced that I don’t have to be that mom with a box of themed activities and decor ready to go for each new season in order to be exactly who my kids need me to be. I am enough, just as I am.

But that doesn’t mean that when the mood strikes, I should talk myself out of trying something new, which is essentially what I do. All month, I’ve seen the pumpkin displays at the supermarket and lamented that somehow, in seven years of parenting, we haven’t carved a pumpkin as a family. I sigh to myself, “I just wish I was that mom, the one who has this kind of stuff together!” I self-sabotage, staying stuck in a view of myself that isn’t actually serving me.

The thing is, none of us fit neatly into the boxes that modern mom culture often imposes on our identities. Are you a Type A mom or do you go with the flow? Are you a competitive mom or empathetic and gentle? Are you a cool mom, granola mom, hot mess mom?

You can take all the Buzzfeed quizzes in the world to nail your label down, but the truth is motherhood is expansive and we are so many things, all the time. You may be super intentional about serving your kids balanced meals AND super relaxed about screen time. You may show up late in your pajamas to drop your kids at school AND make time to do cute crafts with them after. 

We’re not defined by whether we present as pulled-together or hot mess because we are all literally just doing the best we canand what that looks like can change by the day (or hour, or minute).

So I’m trying something new. I’m trading in my self-sabotaging and guilt for excitement and joy.

And this week, instead of judging myself for our history of pumpkin-less porches, I’ve decided to tell myself, “We can start now!”

So that’s how I found myself in Target the other day, grabbing a few essentials (a.k.a. $100 worth of stuff I didn’t know I “needed”) and sticking a pumpkin in the cart. Then I really doubled down and grabbed this “Monster Motel,” a silly Halloween version of a gingerbread house . . . because, why not?

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I got home and set all the goods out on the dining room table, eager to watch my daughter’s reaction when she returned from school. Sure enough, her eyes widened with delight as soon as we walked in the door. And as we got to work dripping the “slime” frosting all over our Monster Motel chimney, never once did my daughter say, “Ugh, it’s about time we did stuff like this! Why have you been slacking for all these years?”

Instead, she was giggly and exuberant all night, skipping back and forth with glee as she stuck on bat sprinkles and monster eyes. She kept saying over and over, “It’s our FIRST EVER gingerbread house!” (That’s rightwe’ve never made a gingerbread house at Christmas either. But I have a feeling this year will be our year!)

The point is, we had a sticky, messy, hilarious, wonderful time, all because I was able to silence the internal dialogue that tried to keep me from this sweet, simple moment of joy.

So I’ll caption this picture, which my husband snapped as I was wrangling my goofy girl for the real picture, Mama’s Trying.

Because I am. We all are. We’ve been handed impossible circumstances and our own internal battles, yet we’re still showing up for our kids each day. So be free, Mama, grab that Monster Motel or President’s Day Palace or whatever you need to inject a little holiday spirit into a year that, if you’re like me, has felt monotonous and draining.

Or don’t! I don’t know what it’s like to be a Pinterest mama, but if you feel like skipping some of the picture-perfect festivities this year and keeping it low-key, be free. Forget the labels. What matters is that every single one of us is trying.

And, can I be honest?

We’re doing a pretty amazing job.

Ellie Hunja

Ellie is a mother of two (ages 7 & 3) who is passionate about her faith, racial justice, autism acceptance, and mental health. She believes that empathy and vulnerability can change the world, and that there is ALWAYS room for dessert. She shares about her journey to cultivate a life of purpose, authenticity, and joy on Facebook at @EllieHunjaWriter and Instagram at @elliehunja