Monday, December 21, 2015

Parenthood: Week 132 – All They Want For Christmas

There’s this bar that we set for ourselves as parents surrounding holidays. We create this Norman Rockewell-eque idea of what the holiday experience should be like for our kids. Then we judge the quality of the holidays more on accomplishing a to do list than the quality of the experiences themselves.

My family was never huge on Christmas. We aren't Christian and most of what we did around this holiday was simply taking parts of the secularized American Christmas mythology that we enjoyed like presents and family dinner and doing it ourselves.

Since I’ve met Diana, through her family I’ve experienced in a many different activities around Christmas time. There is cutting down a Christmas tree, driving around to different neighborhoods to see Christmas light displays, making Christmas cookies, wearing matching Christmas sweaters, caroling, going downtown to see window decorations, seeing the train display at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, seeing the Christmas tree display at the Museum Of Science and Industry, going to Santa’s Brunch (to meet Santa, of course), holiday concerts, Christmas morning church service, Christmas eve dinner, Christmas morning breakfast, fruit-cake toss, white elephant gift exchange, and multiple family Christmas parties.

Does this seem like a lot? Well, it is and even though there was never a year that we did all of those things, there were years which we did most of them.

All of that stuff is fun but it’s time consuming and when you have a toddler, every activity has added prep time. There are naps to schedule around and time is more precious when you are a parent. Also, you start asking yourself, how much your kid is really going to enjoy an activity. Are you doing it for yourself or your child’s enjoyment? While there is nothing wrong with dragging your kid along to do something that only you enjoy, you have to do this carefully. There’s only a finite amount of times in the span of a month that you can do this and often the whole “dragging your kid” part makes it less fun for you.

Then there’s that bar I mentioned earlier. It’s the idea that unless you do certain Christmas activities you are robbing your child of a meaningful holiday experience. While it’s great to be thoughtful about sharing things you enjoyed as a kid with your children, doing this at the cost of your own stress and sanity, may not in fact be worth it. If buying your Christmas tree from a parking lot as opposed to driving two hours to cut one down from a tree farm means that everyone is better rested, than you will all probably enjoy the tree a lot more when it is up.

A certain amount of stress around the holidays is self-generated. If gift giving and the related Christmas shopping is too stressful, than cut back on gifts. If you find large family gathering stressful, than organize smaller ones and if you’d rather not do certain Christmas activities, than just don’t.

Here’s the thing, if you stress out too much about that holiday check-list, trying to reach that bar you set for yourself, than that’s all your kids are going to focus on as being meaningful this time of year.

It’s already an uphill battle, trying to find the any hint of the story of Jesus Christ in most of the secularized Christmas traditions in American culture. So let’s not add to that for our kids. Let’s reflect, take a step back from the lights and think about the time we spend together.

Yes, there was a miracle in Bethlehem, but what seems like even more of a miracle is that in our modern culture, we have an agreed upon time of the year that we can stop, and if we choose, be truly present with our families.

More than anything else that is all our children really want for Christmas.

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