Parenting Tips from 5 Classic Holiday Stories
The holidays are always a tricky time of year around our home, and for everyone I know, for that matter. There is sooooo much to do, so many people to remember, so many places to visit, and people to buy for, things to bake and take, and parties, decorating . . . I could go on, but I’m sure you get my drift! (Yep, winter pun!) As my children and I, and my friends and theirs have struggled with the season, we’ve shared secrets of what matters and how to help our kids when the energy around them is more, more, more, me, me, me, get, get, get.
K.I.S.S. - This has nothing to do with mistletoe but everything to do with keeping things simple. Our world is so caught up in perfect pictures, perfect vacations, perfect relationships, perfect children, perfect holiday cards, perfect charcuterie boards, perfect gifts, perfect everything that mental health professionals are more concerned than ever. We’re bombarded with the successes and social media posts of those that we feel like have an ideal life and then work like crazy to have or be “that.” That dark side is continually pulling us toward either succumbing to endlessly striving for the unreachable or a deep dive in discouragement and despair. There’s two ways I’ve seen this overcome: 1) cut things-make life simpler by having less to do, fewer gifts to buy, fewer goodies to bake, fewer expectations to meet. Or 2) be prepared-start the season with a good plan and a list (maybe even a head start). But since we’re well into the season and the holidays are upon us, prioritize, cut the unnecessaries, and make a plan to include the most important things and to end on a high note. A woman I respect said, “Women [and men] wear many hats, but it is impossible, and unnecessary to wear them all at once.” (Joy D. Jones) Make sure to be in the moment.
My sister is very good at being present. When she’s home with her kids, she’s home with her kids. When she’s a CEO, she works really hard. When she’s with people, she’s all in - you know she’s paying attention and isn’t distracted. I admire her for this. So, focus on what really matters. Sometimes that promotion is what matters-better hours, better pay, and better support for your family. So explain. Get your family on board. Detail what that will entail, how when everyone pitches in a bit, it helps the whole family team. And decide on a way to celebrate that everyone can look forward to an exciting “payday.” And if you’ll notice, even here, what’s important is your family, those you love. It boils down to that. Not squeezing in another boutique, not all the gifts, not more elaborate parties, but people, the people that make life worthwhile. Make sure that nothing clouds your vision of that, and help your kids see that way too by gently leading them to the same types of decisions.
Share the season’s love and goodness - The story of the Little Match Girl always breaks my heart. She was in such a terrible situation, and those around her made it worse either deliberately or unconsciously. “The poor little creature was hungry and perishing with cold, and she looked the picture of misery. . . . Nobody had bought any (matches) from her during all the long day, and nobody had even given her a copper.” There are many in need right now, and not all of them are needing money. Some just need love, a kind word, someone to notice and remember them. Teaching children how to give, and be generous and kind, will always be a win no matter what time of year.
A story I love that’s a good example of giving and serving is Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect. This destined-to-be-perfect little sapling chooses to shelter a bird, hide a bunny, and feed a deer during a hard winter. Each effort changes its shape and makes it less likely that it will wind up “perfect” and chosen for the honor of adorning the great hall. It makes a hard choice: to give when another needs help instead of standing by and doing nothing. Couldn’t our world use a bit more of that? And just like this little tree, we and our children are forever changed by our acts of service and love. So hand your child a few dollars and let them give them to the homeless vet on the corner. Have them carry the goodies for your neighbor, schedule a session at a food bank or food packing place (we love Feed My Starving Children), volunteer for Secret Santa Gifts for the family that your workplace adopts, and have your kids help you pick the gifts out. There are many ways to serve; we just have to decide how.
Work fast, play long - Santa in The Night Before Christmas is an excellent example of getting right down to business and being efficient to get the work done. “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work …” And when he finished, he didn’t dilly dally, he moved on. We have a lot to fit in and get done this time of year, so get to it, wrap it up (yep, another pun), and get to what is joyful about the season. And then you have time to spend extra time with your kids, which can be a motivator for them to work fast too.
Remember Gratitude - It’s not about stuff; it’s not about needing more; it’s not about being better than anyone else. Scientists say that the brain can’t process both complaints and gratitude at the same time. If you focus on what you have, those wishes that go unanswered (maybe just for now) won’t matter so much because you’re in the warm embrace of gratitude. Plus, we have been given so much and have such an abundance around us. This is one of the messages that the Grinch realizes in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As the gift-lacking townspeople of Whoville all sing on Christmas morning, he ponders about his assumptions. “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.’” Be grateful for what you have and every single item you’re given this year. If you are, it will be that much easier to teach your children to be the same way.
There is healing in hope and beauty in belief - Sometimes, having hope and believing is as simple as a choice - I didn’t say easy, just simple. The wanting to hope, the desire to believe . . . like a box to check or a light switch - simple. The Conductor in The Polar Express explains, “One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” And those around us, whether our children or their teachers or our co-workers or a frustrated stranger in a long check-out line, all need hope and to be believed in. Isn’t it the season of giving? And what better to give than hope! It doesn’t have to cost anything and can be shared in a simple smile, an act of kindness, or a brave step forward to forgive. At the end of The Polar Express, we’re reminded about the power of choice and what benefits it brings us in believing and in having that childlike hope. “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” Believe in your children, believe in your family and friends, believe in yourself, and hope for the future to be both merry and bright.
One last thing that can be key this time of year has no good link to a holiday story, but a great one to an every-other-time-of-the-year book - The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. When I learned of my husband’s and kids’ love languages, it was a game-changer. Their love languages definitely play into how I treat them during the holidays. All of my kids like gifts, don’t get me wrong, but some of them need other things too, like spending quality time with them or extra doses of hugs or an abundance of kind, encouraging words during finals week. And my baker daughter responds well when I step in and do something unexpected to help her during crunch time. If your kids are stressed out, acting out, or checking out, figure out how you can connect with them on their level and speak their “language.” And when it comes to presents, give them a variety of types of gifts, especially those kids that have main love languages that aren’t gifts. For example, a love/appreciation/encouragement letter may not cost anything or take up much room under the tree, but it may be the most meaningful gift for a child who needs those words of affirmation. And a coupon for special time with one or both parents might be the gift a child who dreams of quality time is the most excited about using. Try to give them the things that matter to them the most - you and your love - in a way they understand you.
And most important of all, enjoy the wonderful exuberance of the holidays! Be safe and stay healthy! (And read an avalanche of books! Last pun!)
By Stephanie Morris