The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I wasn’t always a Scrooge.

In fact, I have fond memories of Christmas as a young girl. Trekking out to find the perfect tree and decorating it while Christmas albums played in the background. Baking cookies. Poring through the Sears and JC Penney catalogs to compile a list of the toys I wanted. Opening a new window on the Advent calendar each day. Visiting the mannequin displays in the department stores downtown. Christmas Eve service and the thrill of hearing the congregation reverently sing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Playing “Guess the Ornament” with my sister.

When I had children of my own, I continued some of those traditions. I decorated the house, baked the cookies and bought and wrapped the presents. Watching two little girls on Christmas morning as they discovered their goodies? There really is nothing better.

But the joy I had as a youngster has faded a bit and I have come to regard this as the opposite of  “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” In addition to regular day-to-day obligations, the season also piles on more: social gatherings, screwy schedules, shopping, spending. It can feel overwhelming. I’m offended by the holiday displays that appear before Halloween. I’m dismayed by Black Friday and the greedy behavior of some people who mere hours earlier focused on being grateful. I’m stressed about the never-ending to-do list. I feel tremendous guilt around the redefined version of our family and how it affects the girls during the season.

So I have to force myself to be conscious to look at the holidays through their eyes. Typically I don’t like to put up a Christmas tree until December. This year my youngest lobbied to get festive a week before Thanksgiving and I went with it. Intrigued by the concept of Black Friday, I knowingly took them to the mall on the most chaotic day of the year. In the coming days we’ll make cutout cookies and other treats, shop for Toys for Tots, drive around and look at holiday lights and hopefully do a whole bunch of sledding and ice skating over their winter break.

I will try my hardest to not get stressed out by it all, taking a cue from this, which lists a lot of good ways to do that. I don’t have a wish list per se, but if I did I’d want these things:

1)      An appreciation of time spent with family and friends.

2)      The ability to not demand perfection from myself or others.

3)      To forget the bad parts of the past and start new traditions on my terms.

4)      To enjoy each moment as it comes.

Have any tips on how to survive the most wonderful time of the year? Let me know in the comments!


Back to School Supplies [Me with Melancholy]

School starts in a few weeks and we’re starting to get a twinge of back-to-school fever.

For the kiddos, it’s the allure of new school supplies and backpacks and being reunited with their friends. The supply lists have been posted at the local stores for weeks and each time we visit the girls ask when they’ll be getting their new stuff. I totally get that. I was the same way when I was their ages and the scent of fresh notebooks and no. 2 pencils for me is right up there with puppies and rainbows in terms of awesome things.  

But as excited as they are for school to start again, I am hesitant to bite the bullet and set the preparations in motion. Call it denial, but I want to savor summer a bit more. The weather here has been sporadic in terms of quality summer heat and sun and when you live in a state that sees snow half the year you want as much warmth as you can get for as long as possible.

More importantly, though, is that time with the girls is precious. And that fact was reinforced when they returned from Y camp after a week away recently. It seems that in the blink of an eye they grew 5 inches and matured 5 years each. Don’t get me wrong. This is a great thing. Raising happy and independent kids is my first priority and I love that each day they get a little closer to that goal. But it’s bittersweet. Because soon they’ll be teens, and they won’t think Mom is as cool as their friends. And then they’ll be headed off to college and, well, you get where I’m going with this.

But, the reality is, life is nothing but change. And resisting it at every turn is fruitless and painful. I recently read this article and found many of the points pretty helpful. Much of it is about re-framing how you think about situations and opportunities.

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Look at the start of the new school year as a new adventure, not only for the girls but for me as well.

What about you? Have any tips that have worked for you in this area? Let me know via the comments.

Getting a Grip on Chronic Working Mom Guilt

If you’re a working mother, chances are you suffer from Working Mom Guilt (WMG). This disorder appears the minute you even think about going back to work after having a baby and doesn’t really abate until your child goes off to college, if ever.

I suffer from chronic WMG. The main symptom is a persistent nagging feeling that I’m never doing anything really well. When I’m at work and the kids are home, I feel bad that I’m not there to do more with them. When I’m at home with them instead of the office, I feel bad that I’m not being a good employee. These feelings escalate during the summer months when they’re home for prolonged periods of time.

Not working isn’t an option. In addition to needing to pay the bills and loving what I do, I am not stay-at-home mother material. No offense to the SAHMs out there (I’m actually in awe of the women who do this full time),  but I can honestly say that if I were at home with my kids all the time I would be on the fast track to an inpatient mental hospital. I did the SAHM thing for a few years when the girls were little. Even then I worked part-time from home because I needed the intellectual stimulation raising a toddler and an infant did not provide. I did go back to work eventually full time, and yes, I agonized over that decision, too.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that allows for flexible scheduling and telecommuting. Many of the working parents here have had to find creative ways to get their jobs done while navigating around their children’s schedules. And yes, many of them suffer from WMG, and there are also a few Dads who suffer from its counterpart, WDG.

I don’t think there’s a cure for WMG. It’s just always kind of there in the background, lurking. But there are a few things you can do to lessen its effects. My boss, for example, is very good at employing an “Always be present in the moment” type of mentality. He actively works at training his brain to focus on the task at hand, whether it’s at his job or when he’s with his kids. If feelings of guilt or distraction about either one start to sneak into his brain, he consciously redirects himself to focus on what he’s doing. It’s no magic pill, but apparently it’s highly effective.

Another thing you can do is simply cut yourself some slack. I know, easier said than done. After all, women have been fed a “you can have it all” message since we entered the work force. But we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Can you really have it all? More importantly, can you really do it all? You can’t give 100 percent to your job and 100 percent to your kids 100 percent of the time. You will either die from exhaustion or want to rip your hair out from the stress it takes to do it. Your kids don’t want a stressed out Mom. Your employer doesn’t want that, either.

I’ve learned that most of the time I’m OK with being “good enough.” I’m getting more comfortable with the phrase “I’m doing the best that I can.” I’m also getting more comfortable taking up offers of help from friends and family. Another big help? Don’t compare yourself to other parents and realize that the parents you see out in public are not necessarily the same way they are in the privacy of their own homes. No one gets it perfect all the time. But each day is a new opportunity to try and get it right. So if today was really bad, tomorrow will be much easier in comparison. You get my drift.

Finally, rest assured that having to be “good enough” at home and work is only temporary. Once your kids have left the nest you are perfectly welcome to resume your regularly scheduled programming of the “I can have it all” kind.

Let me know how that works out for you.