“Do you want to go see Santa?” I asked my kids, standing outside the mall Christmas display. My one-and-a-half year old shook his head vigorously, while my four-year-old (nicknamed Sprout) just said, “No” in the same tone he gives me at bedtime. But that doesn’t mean they dislike Santa – just the mall version. And that’s just fine with me. Instead of forcing my kids to sit on some dude’s lap, we’re finding deeper ways to maintain Santa’s beauty and magic.
In our household, Santa is a complicated person.
“I talked to the teacher today,” my husband said while he was making dinner. While his statement was neutral, his strangled tone of voice revealed something was wrong. “The teacher” is our four-year-old’s preschool teacher.
After we put the kids to bed, he said, “She said he’s having trouble makingfriends.”
Ah. That’s what it was.
A few years ago, I thought about what I had to do before Christmas and had a deep, sinking feeling. My own bedtime was already too late, my to-do list too long, and my anxieties far too sharp. I had gone through a personal tragedy earlier in the year and was struggling with a difficult pregnancy.
As much as I hated it, I had to give some things up. Even if it meant I felt like I was failing at Christmas. As it turned out, I didn’t regret a thing.
Here’s what I ended up not doing, what I learned, and what I’ve picked back up (and not) since then:
This singing Christmas tree is the bane of our holiday existence. But good things – even deep insights – can come from the most annoying of situations.
While some people can’t stand non-stop carols or mall parking lots during the holiday season, this tree bugs us the entire month of December. My mother-in-law bought it for my older son (nicknamed Sprout) a few years ago. Since then, he has played it as many times as we would possibly let him. First thing in the morning. Last thing before bedtime. Random times during the day until my husband finally gets sick of it and puts it away. While the song is cute the first time, it’s grating the 60th time. But I just don’t have the heart to get rid of it.
What are your favorite stories from childhood? While I have many beloved fictional stories, I also hold the family stories my parents hold me close to my heart. Now, we share those stories and others with our kids as part of a long tradition.
I wrote about the power of sharing stories over at A Fine Parent with the article “How to Use the Power of Stories to Connect and Teach.”
Gathered around a fire, a mother and child talk in quiet voices.
The flames leap as the mother tells the child stories of ancestors, far-away lands, and fantastic situations. Drowsy, the child falls asleep, her head on her mother’s lap.
This could be a scene from 10,000 years ago or 10 days ago.
Storytelling is a core part of what makes us human.
Read the rest over at A Fine Parent!
When I faced going back to work after my maternity leave, my husband and I faced a very real and common challenge – how to balance household management and the mental load between the two of us.
I’m a “doer” at heart while my husband, Chris, is much more laid-back. So taking everything over was a legitimate risk for me. The mental burden of being a mom is very real, whether you embrace the role of being a “keeper” of everything or find it smothering.
Our situation had an additional twist on it. That’s because Chris was going to be taking on a role that 29% of moms hold, but only 7% of dads do – stay-at-home parent. Because I would be working outside the home and he wouldn’t, I could not be the de facto household manager. It wouldn’t be fair or practical.
So we had to find a balance of duties, both in terms of physical chores and management. Since then, we’ve learned to reduce my emotional labor and mental load as a mom. (Unfortunately, most of these don’t apply if you’re a single parent.)
Lying in bed with my eyes closed, I wondered if I was the victim of a cosmic joke. A few days earlier, I had celebrated a few moments of silence, but four days of looking at nothing but the inside of my eyelids was starting to feel like a bit too much.
The Sunday before, our entire church was silent just before the sermon. Everyone was reading the white text on the black screen in front of us. Among other thoughts of discomfort, the text said, “It’s too quiet” and “For the love of God, this is anguish.”
After a few minutes, our pastor asked, “How did that feel to everyone? Did that feel like forever? Because it was just three minutes.”
While various murmurs reverberated through the congregation, my hand shot up. “It was nice not being asked for anything!” I volunteered. Chuckles ensued. Our fellow churchgoers are well-aware of my husband’s and my weekly Keystone Cops routine, chasing our young kids around to ensure they stay in the sanctuary.
But a few days later, I was starting to regret my enthusiasm for silence. I had a case of the flu so brutal that even visual sensory input overwhelmed me. But as awful as it was, I realized that my experience as a mom helped prepare me for it. While that sounds like a joke – the flu as a vacation! – what I’ve learned as a parent has actually made silence far more tolerable than I ever expected it to be.
“They’re not dressing up as Native Americans, are they?” I said, wrinkling my nose. After reading about how cultures aren’t costumes around Halloween and how the whitewashed version of the Thanksgiving story is painfully inaccurate, I hope that my son’s preschool isn’t re-enacting the famous version of the Thanksgiving narrative. Regardless of their curriculum, I know we won’t be repeating it in our household. So we have to come up with an alternative.
Seeing kindness in action is one of the most powerful things a child can witness and participate in. Spending real time, money, and energy in service of someone else helps widen their perspective. Having a parent include them also communicates a powerful message about your values and priorities.
If you have a favorite local charitable organization, look into how you can get your kids involved in volunteering for it. Even if kids aren’t allowed to help in a warehouse or Habitat for Humanity build site, they can frequently raise money. When I was a kid, I set up a little stand on my front yard to sell pom-pom critters and donated the proceeds to environmental groups. Blogger Ilana Whiles at Mommy Shorts is participating in a program where her kids bake and sell cookies to raise money for pediatric cancer programs.
If you’re not familiar with nearby groups, looking into a local or regional homeless lunch program is a good place to start. Many of them do welcome children volunteering, as long as they’re coached ahead of time on expectations and responsibilities. Others may not have a direct role kids can play on-site, but have other activities they can do for their clients. For example, kids may be able to run a food drive. In addition to the normal canned goods, our food bank accepts donations of produce at the farmers’ market.
Other options may be more creative. Our local homeless lunch program likes having colorful, seasonal placemats for their meals, which can be a really fun activity for little ones.
Whatever group you work with, let the needs of the people they serve dictate your actions. In some cases, the most “fun” ways of volunteering aren’t the ones that are most needed. True service has to center the needs of the people being served, nor desires of the people serving.
Even if you aren’t able to volunteer today (short notice!), try to research what volunteer opportunities are possible with kids in your area. Most charitable organizations, especially local ones, have a “Get Involved” section on their website with the best ways to help.
Kindness really shines through in the most difficult of situations. All too often, we freeze up or turn away when we’re most needed.
Thankfully, we can help our kids prepare for those situations by talking about them or role-playing before they ever happen. Discussing these situations also helps kids build emotional intelligence and practice empathy for others.
For younger kids, you can talk through a scenario where someone acts unfair or unkind. Some scenarios could include seeing one kid push another, grabbing a toy from another kid, or calling someone a name. Small children have a very strong sense of fairness, starting even before they’re a year old and peaking in third grade. While little kids frequently do things to us that seem unfair, they only do that because they lack the big picture thinking to realize it (it seems fair to them!) or they lack the self-control to stop themselves (haven’t we all had those days?). If you ask them to imagine it happening to them and what they would want someone to do, they can gain that perspective more easily than we realize.
For older kids, you can tackle pricklier situations. These can include:
- What do you do if you hear a friend using a racial slur or making a racist joke?
- What do you do if you see someone inappropriately touch someone else against their will?
- What would you do if one of your friends is being bullied?
Be sure to listen more than you talk. Also, feel free to admit that you don’t know all of the answers! Even the conversations with little kids can be challenging.