If I’m honest, I think it all goes back to the fact I never knew my mom. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sob story, it's just a fact.
I never saw her leave a sink full of dishes or forget the snack she was supposed to bring to my school party. I never saw her stressing out about holiday cards or burn a batch of cookies.
…I never saw her fail at Christmas.
So when I grew up with a home and family of my own, media perfection was my only example. I thought that in order to be a great mom at the holidays, I had to do All. The. Things.
Here are a couple highlights:
There was that year I hand-wrote in gold glitter pen the entire lyrics to Chris Rice’s Welcome To Our World in each of the Christmas cards I sent out to all the people I’d ever met in my entire life. Those lyrics were in addition to the full page personalized note in each card… in a corresponding red glitter pen.
(Because I couldn't write the same thing in each card! What if they all sat around in a circle reading my cards aloud basking in the lyrics and handwritten personalization?!)
I’m still waiting for a call from someone saying that it changed their life.
Then there was the personalized full-length DVD recap of the year I created in iMovie and burned one-by-one on an archaic Mac and mailed to way too many people whose names I needed an address book to spell correctly. I’m probably the only person who ever took the time to watch it.
Finally, there was the graveyard of “attempts to make the holidays meaningful” – attempts at “family fun nights,” supposedly “simple” Advent activities that I successfully overcomplicated and the general wrangling of my family to force them to do something because, by golly, we are going to celebrate the meaning of the season.
Now, hear me out: there's nothing wrong with any of these things. What was wrong was my reason for doing them — I did them simply because I thought I should.
How much time do we spend on things simply because of some vague notion that we “should?” I didn’t do them because they actually made an impact or because anyone had asked for them.
I'll say that again: I didn’t do them because they actually made an impact or because anyone had asked for them.
I don’t know about you, but I run myself ragged doing things that I think people expect of me. I had no actual measuring stick for myself so I was battered around like a ping pong ball by everyone else’s measuring sticks.
It’s time to set our own standards and outline our own measuring sticks so that we focus our limited time on things that truly matter and make the holidays a season of actual joy. But how?
Write down the top five holiday events/activities/traditions that are most meaningful to you. Ask your spouse and your children.
Make a master list and use it to help you funnel your time and energy to the things that really matter to the ones closest to you.
If it’s not on that list, feel the freedom to say no.
If Christmas lights aren’t on your family’s list, lose them.
If the annual white elephant exchange isn’t on the list, skip it.
Be assured that your third least favorite coworker’s disappointment that you’re not bringing a Yule Log to the office will not have long-term emotional effects.
Regardless of how much you minimize what you do, there will probably still be things that feel like a chore.
For me? I honestly don’t like pulling out Thanksgiving decorations and then putting them away and pulling out Christmas decorations, putting them up, and then putting them away. Arghhh!
That possibly sounds incredibly Scrooge-ish to many of you. But the fact is, I loathe it. So, I’m doing as little of it as I can.
My plan is to scale back and focus on high-impact elements. I’ll have one big focus decoration (Christmas Tree, Thanksgiving centerpiece that features things we are thankful for). And then I’ve found that for my family, candles and music add more to the atmosphere than a bunch of decorations.
I’ll light a few candles in the fireplace, turn on a great playlist, and call it a holiday.
We don’t have to love every task we do, but we can simplify by focusing on elements that are low investment, high impact.
The Overarching Question
In the past, I’ve worked so hard to be merry for everyone else that I’ve been a Scrooge in my own home.
I need to ask myself, “Who do I want to make the holidays special for? Instagram? The other moms at my kids’ class party? The 7-year-olds who will NEVER remember how I hand stenciled their monograms on their Christmas party bag?”
No. I want to make the holidays special for the people in my home. The people I love.
So, let’s make our family lists, focus on just those things, and simplify the season.