Nov 212012

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?

Find joy in the little moments:

  • 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,

Happy Holidays!

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Oct 172011

With the holidays approaching, I find myself thinking a lot about traditions. I wonder what traditions my children will remember when they are older. What will they think back on? What will they say when asked the question… “How did your family…?” What will they look forward to every year or recreate for their own children someday? For some reason I spend a lot of time thinking about this every year at about this time. I even feel a sense of pressure to start to create something that is uniquely our family, our tradition, and I wonder if I am missing the mark.

The dictionary defines tradition as:

1: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc, from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice;

2. something that is handed down;

3. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting;

4. a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs or practices;

5. a customary or characteristic method or manner.

When I reflect on this I realize that traditions that are attached to holidays are only a small piece of the puzzle. Tradition helps us define who we are, who our family is and where we came from. But it also helps us define our current place in the world. When someone asks us “Who are you?” much of our information comes from the traditions handed down to us by our parents, and that is much bigger than an annual trip to the pumpkin patch.

Of course traditions can be about unique and meaningful things that families do together, marked by a time of year or holiday. One of my favorite holiday traditions, eating hotdogs after finding the perfect Christmas tree every year, can be traced back to a car breaking down. Who knew that my parents’ random decision to stop for hotdogs while waiting for a ride that day would start a tradition that their grandchildren would still love. Those types of yearly traditions can’t be forced or contrived or planned. They just happen, maybe even accidentally, because it’s our family.

But maybe most traditions aren’t as grand as that. Maybe it’s the smaller, less notable traditions that actually mean more in the long run. Maybe it is the traditions that happen on a weekly or daily basis that actually define family life, and maybe these traditions are just as important. I often find myself longing for the camping trips we always took when I was kid, while my husband mentions regularly that he misses the Italian dinner his mom made every Sunday night. Ask me what stands out about my childhood, and I will immediately reminisce about my family reading together every night (well into my adolescence when I was much too cool to admit to enjoying it). These types of things were not necessarily meant to be traditions, yet they came to define our childhoods. They created a feeling of safety, of love, a pattern of expectation that helped define what it meant to be in our family. They are what we look back on fondly and they are what makes each family unique and special.

As my children get older I already notice them start to find comfort in some of our family routines. Reading in bed every night, the silly song we sing after every bath, the weekly dinner with the grandparents. These things don’t necessarily spell out tradition to my adult mind, but to them, they are the things that define our family. Of course some of these will slowly extinguish themselves (I hope we are not still singing that bath-time song when my kids are 15 and 17…), but on the other hand some of them might just stick and form the building blocks of what my children someday reminisce about.

In big and little ways, our children ask for tradition from us. When our children say, “Mama, tell me about when you were a little girl.” They are asking for tradition. When they say, “Why don’t we sing the bath-time song anymore?” they are asking for tradition. These things happen when we aren’t looking, and the meaningful ones last whether we mean them to or not.

Rather than trying to invent traditions that are amazing and meaningful and noteworthy, perhaps I need to spend more time honoring the uniqueness of our family and following the family rituals as they arise on their own. Making the effort to keep Sunday night Italian night, reading in bed even when we are all tired, singing the silly bath-time song as long as it still makes us all giggle, camping every chance we get and, of course, eating hot dogs after finding the perfect Christmas tree should remain top priorities. Other than that, maybe I should just wait and see what develops in our family.

 Posted by at 10:42 am