Last night I was asked to talk about avoiding stress at the holidays. (See it here.) It is easy to list off the things that we can do to try to ward off the stressful part of this season: Exercise, take time for yourself, don’t over schedule, know when to say no, ask for help, plan ahead…. But, as I think through this list of to-dos it feels somehow hollow. Rather, I keep returning to the idea that holidays can become less stressful when we really allow them to be what they are truly meant to be. Somehow, for many of us, the heart of the holidays has gotten lost.
Dr. Laura Markham wrote a lovely post about letting go of expectations at the holidays, and I truly believe this is the key. We have unrealistic ideas about what holidays should look like and those ideas get bigger and bigger. In our minds we envision picture-perfect meals and movie-like settings, and as the expectations pile up, so does the cost and the stuff and the stress and the disappointment.
Rather, what if we took a hard look at what the holidays really mean to us, to our families and to our children. What if we went to the very core of the issue and redefined how we move through the holiday season? Is it about religion? Is it about family togetherness? Is it about tradition?
Many of us allow our holidays to be defined by “stuff.” Presents and table settings and the perfect turkey and the perfect party. All of which can be quite overwhelming. But in reality, when we look back on what was memorable about past holidays, it wasn’t about the stuffing or the way the table was set or the number of presents under the tree. What we remember is the funny thing that Grandma did, or when the kids fell asleep under the Christmas tree, or the burned sugar cookies or the pie made with salt rather than sugar (nod to my mom). Some of these things can feel like disasters at the time, but in reality, it is these moments that we should be relishing in. Laughing together and enjoying the moment and savoring every interaction. Not just the perfect turkey.
So this year, let’s move a little deeper into our holidays, beyond the stuff. Here are three things we can do differently this year to get back to the heart of the holidays:
Define what “necessity” really means:
- Do we need three side dishes or ten presents or a new set of dishes that match the table cloth? What can we let go of so that there is space in our hearts and energy to focus on the parts of the holiday that we really want to cherish?
- What does giving mean? What does getting mean? Are we simply filling holiday wish lists or making gift giving a process of connecting with each other? What messages are we teaching our children with our gift-giving process?
- Rather than feeling overwhelmed by stacks of dishes, think of these moments as a time to connect. A grandson washing dishes with a grandfather, telling stories about when dad was a little kid can add a bit of magic to an otherwise mundane and stressful task.
- Find ways for everyone to be involved in the process. A family that cooks together not only finds connection with each other in the process, but finds more joy in the finished product.
Laugh it off:
- Letting go of the expectation of perfection can relieve an incredible amount of pressure and stress. Realize that things won’t be perfect and that it is probably these lovely imperfections that you will smile about for years to come.
- When something goes wrong, smile and embrace the moment. This is a memory in the making!
Holidays can be stressful, but they can also be filled with amazing connections, deepening relationships and lifelong memories. And if we aren’t too caught up with our high expectations, we may just be surprised about how easily these things fall into place.
From our Core Parenting Family to yours,