How to Stay Sane During Pesach (And in Life): 10 Tips

Your in-laws are coming over for the holiday, the house is a total mess, and you have to prepare a dinner for too many people to count. What can you do to survive Passover without calling the therapist?

Passover is stressful, but don't let it get to you.
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Pesach is just around the corner and with all the excitement of the holiday, such as the anticipation of the seder and of carrying on traditions, comes apprehension. It is no surprise to anybody that Pesach is a hard time for families. Lots of concentrated time together over the holiday, high expectations coupled with big expenses do not always equal happy families.

Ordinarily stable marriages can appear rocky, usually well behaved children start moaning and cracks in the smiles already begin to show by the first cup of wine. So what can you do to survive Pesach without calling the therapist?

Tip one: Focus on what is important to you

Every person has an idea of what Pesach should be. To some it is seder night with children’s explanations and a house full of guests. To others it is time off work and time to relax. Some dream of the perfect seder table laid out in all its splendor. Others look forward to the trips during Hol Hamoed or the barbecues. The key here is to decide together with your family what is the most important aspect to you all, and focus on that.  Once you have agreed on your focus you can tell yourself that as long as you achieve your main aims, you can let all the other things go.

Tip two: Say it out loud

They can’t read your mind.  We have all been there. You know the priorities, cleaning cupboards are far higher up on the list than reorganizing the home filing system. It is so obvious it hardly needs mentioning, and yet no-one else seems to be paying attention. Keep the passive aggressive factor down to a minimum.  Instead of wishing others could intuit your wishes and offer to clean the oven in place of alphabetizing the (now defunct) CD collection, try to state what you would like to be done.  Saying what you think might seem like the quickest way to find yourself in hot water, but if you can manage to say it in a non-judgmental fashion, expressing what you want, is communication at its best. 

Tip three: Delegate jobs in advance and write them up

Nothing is more frustrating than working really hard and receiving looks from your family when you ask them to “just” help with one of the chores. We all know that Pesach does involve a whole lot of work, from the cleaning and shopping to the cooking and entertainment on seder night.  To receive the help you want while bypassing the sighs and complaints, create lists and give them out beforehand. This stops people from seeing you as the taskmaster and trying to avoid you for fear of receiving yet another request for help. Everyone knows what they have to do and it is their responsibility to do it.

Tip four: Make time 

Pesach is a time filled with people, family who visit or who need to be visited, children and their needs, guests to be hosted.  And on top of that there is the seemingly endless shopping and cooking. When our time fills up we tend to put the person who is top of the list in our lives at the bottom of our priority list. If you can, set aside a time on Pesach and get out the house with your partner, go for a walk and just chat. You will find that putting your partner first really does pay dividends. Don’t forget to make time for yourself as well. Carving out a small amount of time to do what you want to do, such as going to the gym or reading a good book, will allow you to recharge, regroup and regain any sanity lost. 

Tip five: Laugh

If you can try and find humor in situations when things go wrong, it will go a long way to making your Pesach better. Take a mantra or a funny clip and whenever something goes wrong or threatens to overwhelm you, repeat the mantra and watch the clip. It may sound formulaic, but it works.

Tip six: Let go of the idea of the perfect Pesach

We all have it. The ideal. The concept that this year everyone can get along together. That this year we will not have to go out shopping for the fifteenth time to buy what we forgot in the last 14 shopping orders, or that this year the seder will be a magical experience for all. Letting go of the idea of a perfect Pesach doesn’t mean you won’t have any of the above, it just means that in letting go of the idea of having it all, you can enjoy what you have. 

Tip seven: Don’t be a martyr

This may sound harsh, but particularly at Pesach time we feel that we need to say “yes”. Yes to all the extra guests. Yes to visiting your extended relatives. Yes to staying with your in-laws or babysitting the grandchildren. The problem with saying yes all the time is that you can overextend yourself, which leaves you in the position of either letting people down or letting yourself become emotionally and physically drained by not having one moment to yourself. If you can be realistic with what you can and (dare I say) want to do, and say no to the rest, it will leave you more in control and you may find that you can achieve a better balance for all concerned.

Tip eight: Be a team

Work as a team and talk as a team. Whatever you talk about, try to incorporate the word “we”. It is really important when you are facing challenges to feel that you are facing them together. If your in-laws are coming and prove difficult (after eight days, whose in-laws aren’t?) tackling them as a team makes you less likely to lash out at each other when the people you are actually angry with are not your spouse nor your kids. When your partner or children hear you saying “we” it reinforces the bonds of closeness in your relationship.

Tip nine: Pesach is about freedom

Pesach is all about freedom. So take this opportunity and free yourself from any excessive cleaning cooking, entertaining or whatever is weighing you down. Where you can, make it easier on yourself. This may mean serving food on disposable paper-ware, not serving as many side dishes or not cleaning behind the fridge/freezer. We all have standards, but letting them slip a little is OK. It may feel like a big deal to you, but others will hardly notice. Or, even better, they might notice you are more relaxed.

Tip ten: Keep it in proportion

Pesach is one week in the whole year. Understanding that not having the perfect Pesach does not mean that your relationships are in tatters is a very important thought to hold onto.  If you feel that your family are great for most the year, but the stresses of Pesach put a huge strain on your relationships, try focusing on some less stressful memories such as summer holidays, birthdays, or Hanukkah, and remind yourself that this is just temporary and it will all be back to normal soon.

Hadassah Fidler LLB qualified as a lawyer in the U.K. and then retrained as a licensed mediator both in England and in Israel. She currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, where she has a mediation practice specializing in mediation for English speakers.