How I Failed at Christmas – And I Didn’t Care

How I Failed at Christmas - And Didn't Care


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:

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Family Kindness Challenge: Model Kindness by Volunteering

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.

Family Kindness Challenge: Talk about an ethical dilemma

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.

Family Kindness Challenge: Do something kind for animals or the environment

You can extend kindness beyond just humans! With stuffed animals and animal characters in children’s books, kids are inherently inclined to be empathic towards the natural world.

Before today’s activity, talk to your kids about their impact on the environment and animals. If they’re younger, you can start with visible impacts like how animals can eat litter and get sick. For older kids, talking about wider environmental issues like climate change or water pollution will probably be more engaging.

Then, do an activity that shows kindness to animals. One of our favorites is making homemade feeders for the birds.

Peanut butter

Tie a string around the pine cone in a loop, so you can hang the pinecone from a tree branch or fence post. You will probably need to tuck it under the scales. Use a knife to coat the pinecone in peanut butter. Use enough so that the birdseed will thoroughly stick to it. Roll the pinecone in birdseed. Hang the pinecone in a tree or a bush where birds are likely to see it. Wait for the birds to show up! It may take a few days, but it will be gone quickly once they do.

Alternative activities include picking up garbage on a nature walk or setting up composting in your yard.

Family Kindness Challenge: Start or continue a tough conversation about privilege

Just like peace isn’t an absence of war, true kindness isn’t just “being nice” to people. It’s also about showing all people respect, making freedom from hate a reality, and providing access to opportunity. While individual actions are great, breaking down systems of inequality and injustice are essential.

A big piece of learning to be kind is understanding your own privilege. Although this can feel like a tough topic to parents, kids understand it better than we give them credit for. It’s tempting to think “just let kids be kids,” but parents of kids who aren’t privileged – like LGBT parents, parents of black kids, poor, and/or non-Christian kids – don’t get that luxury.

The first step is simply stating that some people have advantages over others in society. The classic text for understanding privilege is White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but I find it a little difficult to wrap my own head around that article.

Instead, I rather like “The Dollar Bill Hanging from the Ceiling” exercise that Bailey Koch describes on the website Her View from Home. In it, she hangs two dollar bills from the ceiling and then invites two kids – one much taller than the other – up to grab them. The kid who grabs theirs first gets to keep both dollars. Of course, the tall kid grabs it first and receives both bills. Right away, kids realize that even though both kids have access to the same thing, they have different opportunities. She then goes back and gives the shorter kid a chair to stand on, making it so both students have the same opportunity. While she uses the dollar bill exercise to illustrate how students start with certain academic advantages or not, I think it’s a great physical illustration of privilege out of the classroom as well.

If you relate to video games, John Scalzi’s Lowest Difficulty Setting is a great metaphor. The article makes it clear that having privilege of any kind doesn’t mean things will always be easy. In fact, you’ll almost certainly encounter things that are hard. But if you’re privileged, those things won’t be as hard to handle as someone in a less privileged position.

Obviously, the conversation here is going to vary widely depending on the age of your child. For our four-year-old, it’s a simple as telling him that people have different lives than we do. Some people have less money, some people have difficulty walking, some people don’t celebrate Christmas, some people have different color skin than we do. We’ve also edged a bit into the fact that people treat others worse because of these differences. If nothing else, his constant questioning “Why?” has forced our hand in the best way possible. The more we as adults think “Why?” about systems we take for granted, the more we can break them down and build something better in their place.

The next step to understanding privilege is seeing how someone can be privileged in one area and not in another. Similarly, someone can be non-privileged in several ways that interact with each other. For example, a black woman is treated differently (and often worse) by society than either a black man or a white woman is. This is called intersectionality. This comic does a great job breaking down intersectionality and what it means for people.

What types of privilege you discuss obviously depends on your own circumstance. For us, economic privilege is the easiest to start with because it’s easy to see how some people have less money and the material impact that has on their lives. With race, we’re talking about the history of the Civil Rights movement and starting to provide some modern-day context about the work that still needs to be done.

The resources you can turn to depends on the sort of privilege. There are a ton of great resources for talking to kids about race: Raising Race Conscious Children, Embrace Race, and Raising an Advocate. Some of the other topics don’t seem to have as many good resources available, unfortunately.

This is a tough thing to tackle, so good luck!

Family Kindness Challenge: Read a story about someone who is different from you

The heart of kindness is empathy. As Brene Brown says in this great video, empathy is being with someone, not having pity or trying to give advice. One of the best ways to develop empathy is to see things from another person’s point of view.

While in-person conversations and real relationships are the best way to do this, books can also play an important role. Reading about people who have radically different experiences than me has opened my eyes to so many perspectives.

Fortunately, children’s literature offers a wide variety of experiences if only you look for them. Obviously, which characters will be different from you will depend on your own situation!

But here are a few ideas for great picture books featuring children from a variety of backgrounds and experiences:

Unfortunately, my knowledge of current chapter books is pretty limited right now! A librarian in the children’s section of your local library can be an invaluable resource though.

Connecting With Who My Baby Really Is

Connecting With Who My Baby Really Is (Photo: Small child standing in a field, touching a sunflower)

“Do you want socks on?” I asked my nineteen-month-old son, raising an eyebrow. His feet were cold, but that was a pretty sophisticated question. He wouldn’t be able to understand it. Right?

He bobbed his head up and down, blond hair flopping. An unmistakable yes.

I moved my own mouth up and down wordlessly a few times. I finally said, “Okay,” and went to get him socks. My baby wasn’t going to be a baby for much longer.

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Behind the Scenes of My Living Room Floor

Behind the Scenes of My Living Room Floor (Photo: A somewhat messy living room with a couch, table, overturned chair, and several items on the floor)

I used to worry I’d be judged by the contents of my bookshelf. Now as a mom, I know better. Now I know I’ll be judged by the contents of our living room floor.

This state of being was rather inevitable. As a kid, my bedroom floor was littered with books, papers, toys and more books. These days, we have an 18-month-old whose main goal in life is to pull anything on a shelf off of it.

But like all messes, our disorganized living room tell a story about who we are. A story that’s about a lot more than our messiness. In the spirit of cultural anthropology, here’s what we see:

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What I’ve Been Reading


I was going to post a photo of one of the local rabbits, but it was too blurry. So here’s a spider.

Lately, my mood has often wobbled between “exasperated” and “vaguely aggravated.” The world’s political situation is definitely affecting it. But on the other hand, I also got some amazing encouragement for my writing, so that rocked. I won’t say it all equals out in the end, but it’s nice when something pushes down on the scales a bit.

For this week, our articles cover why kids should talk to strangers, teaching kindness, truth telling around racism, and the beautiful challenges of parenthood.

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How to Introduce Kids to Political Activism

How to Introduce Kids to Political Activism. With all of the talk of activism, what's the best way to introduce the ideas to children? (Photo: Two kids walking next to each other; one has a sign on her back that reads 'We march for our wild and wonderful world.')

“Mommy is going to let the people in charge know that we need to respect all people,” I told my son on the morning of the Women’s March. While I’ve been politically active for a long time, he never really knew about it. Because I so rarely miss weekend time with the kids, I wanted to let him know what I was doing and why it was important. As I and two of friends gathered snacks and pinned posters on our jackets, seeing my kids reminded me why we were doing this in the first place.

Explaining what’s going on is even more important if you’re bringing your kids along to a political event. In the case of the People’s Climate March, I knew that I had a responsibility to explain to Sprout why he was there.

From explaining why I’ve missed dinner to testify to our City Council to marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, here’s what I’ve learned about introducing kids to activism:

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