This can be a magical time of year for kids.
And an exhausting time for their parents.
If your kids are young enough they still believe in Santa Claus, you may spend your holidays maintaining the illusion: hiding presents, baking cookies to leave for him (and maybe a carrot or some celery for Rudolph), decorating the house, and putting up the tree. If your house is like mine, you have to leave a Santa trap: sprinkle flour on the hearth, and in the morning you can show the kids the boot-print where he stepped out of the fireplace.
If they’re too old for Saint Nick, or you’ve chosen not to perpetuate that particular holiday myth, you’re still busy. In some ways, Santa is a convenient crutch: if a gift isn’t perfect, well, even he gets it wrong sometimes. But if it’s just you–that’s one more thing Mom or Dad couldn’t get right, never mind that they stayed up most of the night setting it up.
And either way, you’re still doing most of the things you do the rest of the year, before you ever get to a party, hang a wreath, or buy a gift.
It’s easy to overdo it. It’s also easy to throw up your hands and give up when you realize it’ll never be good enough.
Our kids expect us to overdo it, because they have more energy than we do. The shops want us to overdo it, because they make money when we do. There are plenty of people out there who have already thrown up their hands and expect the rest of us to do the same. Neither approach is particularly healthy, for us or our children.
We usually think of courage in terms of selflessness. But when selflessness to the point of exhaustion and insolvency is what everybody expects, it may be more courageous to make sure we take care of ourselves, physically, emotionally, and financially, during the holidays. To show the kids what it looks like not to overdo it on egg nog or cookies. To take time for ourselves when we need it. To set a budget and stick to it, even when they come to you three days before Christmas with one more thing they just have to have. To allow ourselves to say no when it’s important.
Because they are watching, and they will follow our lead. They understand–in a way most adults have forgotten–that the real magic of the holidays isn’t in gifts or decorations, but in joy. When we forget joy because we’re too busy or too exhausted or too stressed over what we spent on the gifts, we kill the magic for them and us. When we do that, gifts and decorations are all that’s left…and no matter how much we spend, it won’t be enough.