Happy Messy and Real Holidays


I got a great Christmas card in the mail this weekend. It was a picture of two kids: the girl was wearing a frilly dress with shiny patent shoes, and her brother was dressed in the usual “mini-man” attire of khakis and a button-down. But they weren’t posed to perfection on the overstuffed sofa, they were both having a meltdown. The girl was sliding off a cushion with her dress up over her head, the full length of her saggy white tights revealed as she kicked at the air; the boy was arched over the back of the sofa, leaving only his pants in the picture. I thought it was excellent. More people should be brave enough to show the imperfection of real life.

When your child (or multiples) struggle, the holidays can be extra tough.

Many of us feel pressure to maintain traditions, but sometimes those activities don’t work for our kids. Ever tried to have a child full of anxiety sit on Santa’s lap at the mall? Or brought a teen who has behavioral health issues to a formal dinner? It’s easy to imagine that you’re the only one who has to make adjustments for the family, while “everyone else” is enjoying themselves. Sometimes, all the celebrations can trigger a profound internal sadness about the way we pictured our family life would be, or wistful feelings about how things used to be.

Another challenge is when the armchair quarterbacks offer their earnest advice about how to help the child who is struggling: “Why don’t you just spank him?” “Isn’t there some medicine that could fix this?” “I just read about this alternative treatment… maybe you should try it.” “Don’t you think she’ll just outgrow it?” Our loved ones may be well intentioned, but their suggestions can make us feel annoyed and inadequate.

On top of decorating the house, finding and wrapping gifts, sending cards, cooking, baking, and gathering with family and friends, there’s an expectation that all this extra effort will be joyful. Well the truth is, it can be. We just might need to make a few adjustments. Take some shortcuts and cut ourselves some slack.

I have talked with many parents who feel wiped. They find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, feel like each day is another mountain to climb, or like they might collapse from emotional distress. The holiday season can magnify challenges. But we can take tiny steps towards restoring our strength and building resilience. Why not start today?

Here are some tools to put in your pocket for the holidays:

Contemplate a Candle Flame

Candles are an important feature of winter holiday traditions. Whether you have a Christmas tree, menorah, or Kwanzaa candles, we are all celebrating hope, light and love. As a kid, I always looked forward to the midnight Christmas Eve service at our church. Each person had a candle, and we lit them one after the other, passing the flame until the whole congregation glowed in the light. As we filed out singing Silent Night, I had goosebumps.

Staring into the flame of a candle can be mesmerizing. Light a candle and take a few minutes to watch it flicker. Your home doesn’t have to be quiet for you to experience peace.

Try a Mantra

The holidays bring with them longer to-do lists, but do we really need to check them all off? Maybe it’s time to question which items on the list really matter! How about saying to yourself “I don’t have to do it all.” Or, if you find yourself imagining that everyone else’s holidays are pure fabulousness, then this mantra might help: “I can’t compare my inside to other people’s outsides.” Saying a mantra to yourself can remind you to let go, accept that you’re human and appreciate the good.

Savor Simple Pleasures

Noticing the simple pleasures that are right in front of you is a wonderful way to anchor yourself in the moment, fend off worries, and enhance your wellbeing. Feel the sun on your face. Notice the leaves or snow crunching under your feet. Let a piece of dark chocolate just melt in your mouth. Gaze into your dog’s eyes or cuddle your cat. Observe your child as if you were a fly on the wall and try to see her or him as a perfect wonder.

My latest simple pleasure has been looking out my window at night. I search for twinkling stars and note where the moon is in its waxing and waning routine. Tuning in to nature – its vastness, power and beauty – is almost overwhelming, yet its predictable cycles are comforting.

Sing with Joy

Music can tap into our hearts and give us a lift, even during the bluest of times. I’m not much of a singer, but when I play an inspiring song and try my best to sing along, it feels pretty good.

Put on some music, channel your inner diva, or expose your family to something they’ve never heard. Your kids might roll their eyes and cover their ears, but they may also feel some joy.

If the standard holiday fare gets on your nerves, why not listen to something super elevated, like Handel’s Messiah? – or forget about the holidays and choose any artist you adore.

Give to Receive

You may feel like you don’t have one more ounce to give to others. But even small gestures of kindness – a compliment, a smile, a thank you – can be as fulfilling for the giver as the recipient. Maybe you know another parent whose child is facing challenges. How about offering them a knowing look, sending a quick text to say: “thinking of you”, or dropping off an extra batch of macaroons?

And if that’s too much, not to worry. You can also give yourself a lift by silently wishing someone, anyone, happiness and peace. Empathy and compassion expand the heart.

 Real holidays are messy and wonderful all at the same time. Here’s to more inner calm and moments of joy this holiday season.

Kendra Wilde