How are you feeling these days? Excited for the holidays or frantically preparing?
Whatever you’re doing, just stop it. It is enough. It is probably more than enough.
I am not referring to the “true meaning of Christmas” here. We all celebrate differently, some of us don’t celebrate at all. I’m talking about how we, as parents, obsess about making celebrations magical to the point that we miss out on truly being present. This applies to various winter holidays, July 4th, birthdays, even the first and last days of each school year.
Think back to your own childhood. What do you remember most? For me, it’s not the presents or impeccably set table. It’s the cake fight my mom instigated in our kitchen on my 15th birthday. It’s my grandmother teaching me rummy. It’s the board games we played for hours whenever an older brother came home home to visit. It’s the bonfires in the backyard. It’s my neighbor’s coffee cake we ate for breakfast every Christmas morning. It’s driving home from wherever admiring fireworks in the summer, holiday lights in the winter, leaves turning in the fall. It’s snuggling with my Dad on the couch when I woke up before dawn. It’s the hot cocoa my mom would make for us after an afternoon sledding, boots and mittens drying over the heating vents. It’s laughing about what a ridiculous waste of time polishing silver is when you only use it once a year.
Everyone jokes about how kids are happy with a huge box. It’s funny because it’s true. A few summers ago I was so excited to take my three children on an interactive pirate boat ride along the Potomac. It wasn’t cheap, but I thought it would be worth it. They could not care less. In fact, I look back at the pictures and they were miserable. We got off the boat and they saw a (free) spray ground; their faces lit up. We had to bribe them with ice cream so we could go home.
The simplest things bring joy to our children: playgrounds, movie nights, reading books together, just being present in the moment with them.
We get so caught up in our Instagram feeds that we think creating magic is the perfect decor, the perfect gift, the perfect charcuterie board. Those pictures don’t reveal what’s going on behind the scenes while curating those “perfect” images: kids on their iPads or fighting; parents with bags under their eyes; a trashed kitchen/bedroom/every space not in the photo. This past Thanksgiving my husband and I made an impressive spread. It was gorgeous, the food was delicious. When the day was over, we were so stuffed and exhausted we didn’t even enjoy the homemade pie. And then we had to clean up. I just kept thinking, what’s the point?
Truth is, the best thing we can do for our children is be with them. To be in a good headspace and not stress about creating moments. Just let it happen. Bake the birthday cake with them and laugh when it collapses. Decorate those cookies together and allow them to dump as much sugar as they want. Let it be messy and fun. Take some pictures of the chaos. Stop worrying about finding the perfect gifts that will be forgotten and spend that money on a road trip making imperfect memories. Stop worrying about the ideal dinner and order a pizza or some sushi.
Last, but certainly not least, remember it’s not just about the children. This is a time for parents to relax and enjoy these moments too. If you can’t muster the energy to send holiday cards, skip it. If you don’t have it in you to bake anything, buy it. Being selfless serves no one. Do something you love to do too.