Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Thanksgiving Letter To My Children: It's All About Balance

In a few days we will be sitting down with friends and family to home-cooked meals of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole... Eeerrrrrrrrt!!! Unfortunately, for the majority of the world this isn't even close to being a reality. Even more tragic is the reality that for thousands children right here in America this may only be a picture in a book. How can that be?

As the noise of the Christmas shopping season explodes in a cacophonous clatter for your holiday gift giving dollar, it's easy to be overwhelmed. Often the pressure to provide a wonderful Christmas for the children becomes another race to keep up with the Jones'. Expectations rise as children and parents are caught up in the rush to the midnight deadline of Christmas Eve. Then add to that the endless requests for donations of canned food, money and wrapped gifts and it's easy to feel stretched to the point of breaking.

Don't misunderstand, I love Christmas just as much as the next person. I'm no Scrooge. I've discovered over the years that it all comes down to focus. Perspective makes all the difference. Here are five ways I take the pressure off and enjoy the moment.

1. There are No Rules

      I have done everything from cooking an entire Turkey dinner from scratch, days of baking, hours of preparation to buying a complete prepared dinner with all the trimmings from a restaurant. Good food is yummy whether you slave over it or not. No one says you have to bake everything from scratch and besides, it's often more expensive. Granted there are many who find joy in baking and I think that's wonderful but I was sure relieved when I discovered my worth as a woman wasn't based on my ability to cook. 

      There's another rule we sometimes get hung-up on. The whole giving at Christmas time. It is the season for giving, but there's hunger and homelessness all year round. Sometimes I think that in an effort to appear generous and "having the Christmas spirit" there's a mad dash to fill the food banks, collect those toys and clothes and fund the charities. Having been on the receiving end of these generous gifts, I can't deny how wonderful it felt to receive a turkey when I wasn't sure if I could afford one. The reality is that the rest of the year things are tough, too and finding help is harder.

     Food banks always need food, someone is always going hungry, you can find a homeless person all year. My point is we don't need to save up these opportunities to be of service and donate during this one month of the year. Spread your giving though out year instead of cramming it all in December.

2. Cut Your Family Some Slack
     "I've worked all day to get these decorations up, I'm exhausted. I need you to finish the lights on the roof, today! Why is everything up to me?" Does this sound familiar? If you feel like you're doing all the work and forced to nag your family to do their part, it's time to re-evaluate what's going on. The holidays shouldn't leave you exhausted and sore or turn your family into the enemy. 

      What is the point of all the decorations, the baking and the shopping if by the end of the day instead of spending time together your family hides behind slammed doors. Or worse, leaves the house all together. Who was all this decorating and baking for? Commercials always make decorating look easy and baking fun. Most decorating requires balancing on ladders, climbing trees and occasional roof walking. Baking is hot and messy. At the end of all of this it's possible to look like a wild banshee shouting orders to your minions. Stop the craziness!

3. Be Flexible
     The bigger the family the more flexible you need to be. The month of December fills up fast with parties and visiting. Schedules can get hectic and before you know it you're calendar is packed. Add to that the challenge of a blended family and you have a recipe for disaster. It's easy for people to feel pulled in too many directions. Think Modern Family times six. Our family is a huge conglomerate of spouses and ex-spouses, step-children and step-parents, in-laws, and extended families for all of them. Deciding who to spend what holiday with can get pretty complicated. 

   Being flexible about when you celebrate is a necessity and even then it can be challenging, especially when you have those that aren't so accommodating. A child should never be put in a position where he has to choose. It's imperative adults work together so a child isn't stuck in the middle. As a blended family we learned long ago that birthdays can be celebrated on any day and so can holidays. We alternate our Thanksgiving every year from Thursday to Friday which has provided a viable means of cooperation. Christmas has been similar, sometimes we have our big family get together on Christmas Eve and on others on Christmas Day.  I don't want anyone to feel guilty for spending time with other friends and family. We have a whole year to be together.  

4. Don't Be A Martyr 
     Remember the commercial where the family waits at the table and the mother is slaving in the kitchen. It cuts to the kitchen and she hasn't cooked at all but ties on an apron, throws some flour on her face and assumes a fatigued posture as she brings out the masterpiece. She is greeted by the ooo's and aaaah's of the recipients. I believe that somewhere in our protestant upbringing we got the idea that for anything to be worthwhile it has to hurt. If we aren't moaning and straining then we can't possibly be working hard. I've never bought into that. Much to the chagrin of some around me. I love to sing or whistle when I work. I've even been know to play games while I work. If you find that it's necessary to advertise how much you spent or how hard you worked on something, it's time to examine your purpose for giving in the first place. 

5. Begin From a Place of Abundance
    Over the next few weeks we are going to be bombarded with messages telling us what we're lacking.  We will see visions of family, happy smiles, cozy fireplaces with joyful children about. Bright faces, tears of joy all tied to the accumulation of more stuff. What are they really selling? Things. Fun and innovating things for sure. But, still only physical objects to pile into our already overstuffed homes. 

  Instead of falling into this revolving door of accumulation--Stop. Slow down and ground yourself in the idea that you already have everything you need. That you are already complete, already whole. Listen to that part of you that allows you to be in that moment. No past, no future, only now. When we make decisions from a place of scarcity we tend to make poor ones. This will accomplish two things: 1. This feeling of fullness will drown out ideas that if you could get this one thing, you'd be happy. 2. You will feel the closeness that we all want. To be connected. When you realize you have everything you need, it follows that you will also realize that those around you are also whole and this will connect you to them. From this place you no longer see others as less than or lacking. Compassion and love is the greatest gift we can give to one another. The gifts we do purchase will be more meaningful.

What helps you to stay relaxed through the holidays?


  1. I know I get irritated when I have too much to do and not enough time to do the things I LOVE doing, so around the holidays, I trim what I don't love. I don't love cooking--so if it's my turn for the holiday feast, I keep it simple (last year we had a Mexican buffet--not some super fancy meal). As for gift giving, we've simplified to whom we give gifts (because it gets so expensive buying for everyone). Simple is my theme throughout the holidays. Oh, and I don't send cards. I write a Happy Holiday blog and even keep that simple and concise.

  2. I try to keep it simple and go with the flow. The last thing I want is a headache at the end of a holiday. I leave that to family members who like to fuss.
    Just like Barbara we keep it simple and give gifts to those closest and cards (if we can) to the rest. I do try to make my cards more meaningful depending on whom I'm giving them to. :)
    Balance is the key indeed. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Don't be a martyr. That's so true.

  4. Gosh Pam, what great reminders...I love them, especially the martyr; I tend to do that!
    Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  5. Good thoughts and suggestions. It has helped me tremendously to let go of "The Day." Any day can be special and it's even better when you can get there without worries about weather and rushing back and dealing with unbending schedules.

  6. Lots of wine and chocolate! :-)

    But seriously! Hello there! Thank you for a most practical, sensible and calm post for suriving the holiday season! Now I love Christmas (LOVE IT!!) but it does get very very intense as the countdown to the 25th comes and all I want to do is retreat and hide somewhere. It's good to just step back and breathe.

    Take care

  7. Love this post.

    "A wild banshee screaming orders to your minions." What a line!

  8. This is a great post. The Christmas season is a busy one for me - my sons have multiple food allergies, and their classrooms always have parties involving lots of food that I have to bake suitable replicates of. It's very challenging, and more than a little stressful.

    I take the pressure off by not worrying about the decorating until I have time to do it, and by involving the kids when I can. I also do my shopping throughout the year, and my wrapping starts at the beginning of December. And I love your advice to begin from a place of plenty.

    We also talk openly with our widespread relatives about who we're able to spend different holidays with well in advance, so there are no hurt feelings or disappointed grandmothers. Communication and mutual respect are a big part of the holidays.


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