An experienced mother shares what she wishes she would have known about holiday traditions when her kids were young
When my sons were little, I was so excited to live out my fantasies of being a great mommy who created Norman Rockwell-ish holidays. Since the time I was old enough to play with Barbies, I dreamt of happily baking Christmas cookies while holiday music filled the air and my content happy children played joyfully at my feet. Insert sound of needle screeching across an old-fashioned record here. The reality had more to do with young children who wished their mommy who was giving them attention than anything that had to do with the mixing bowl on the counter far above their heads. Insert sound of sibling bickering and fussing little boys.
Fast forward to a conversation several un-Rockwell-ish cookie-baking years later.
My friend Jana’ told me about memories of coming home to a table full of cookies after school when her mother held a big cookie exchange with other moms. I wondered if I was depriving my children and should add yet another tradition to my long list of “must-do’s” for the month of December.
A while later, Jana’ told me she had reminisced with her mother about that wonderful cookie tradition. Her mom, however, was puzzled. She insisted that she only did that a couple of times in Jana’s life. Jana’ was astounded because in her mind, it was firmly planted as a wonderful, ongoing tradition.
Our “a-ha” from this revelation? We don’t have to do something every single year in order for it to be a special memory for our children. What if we limited ourselves to the traditions that we could do with a happy heart on any given year? What if the important part of the season was being fully present with our children instead of the insane checklist of obligatory things to do? Now that my kids are teens, I feel sad watching moms stress over getting things done instead of being in balance and present for their kids. Have I mastered this? Not even close. But have I had more moments of joy and sanity than I used to during the holidays? Yup.
Here’s something to try if you want to keep your traditions AND your sense of humor and sanity:
- List all the traditions on your list for this year.
- Put an “x” next to the ones you don’t really FEEL like doing but think you should.
- Circle the ones that you ENJOY and really WANT to do.
- Look at the “x list” and see if you can bear to cross some of them off just for this year. Think about what you might be able to do that would bring you joy instead of doing those things.
- For the items that remain on your list, ask yourself how you can make them more fun.
Here are some ways I’ve found to make traditions “fun” instead of “obligatory”:
- Bake cookies with a girlfriend while all your kids play together.
- Stuff and stamp cards with a friend while the kids play.
- Wrap gifts with a friend. When our kids were at preschool or elementary school, my friend Debbie and I used to haul our gifts and wrap and ribbon to one or the other’s house and wrap till we dropped. We got a lot done, we had fun, and we got to connect with each other. It was worth all the hauling!
- One of my friends has a tradition of signing cards only when she has turned on holiday music and lights, lit candles and has a glass of eggnog setting next to her.
- Deliver jars of homemade hot fudge to neighbors. My boys and I only do it on the years when I feel inspired, but when we do, the kids get to practice neighborliness and we get to live in a warmer, more friendly neighborhood.
This December, I wish for you the freedom that comes from choosing which traditions you keep alive and which ones you take a break from in order to give your kids a parent who is in balance enough to truly cherish them.
With love and laughter,
Kerry Stutzman, MSW