The hardest part of the holidays for me as a mom is the expectations that I put on myself. It’s not that I want a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but as my kids have gotten older, and with three of them out of the house, I want the precious time we have together to go well. I want to make sure that we have their favorite foods, that we see certain people and that we do our “usual” activities as a family. And, as the years pass by too quickly than I would like, I know that future holidays together for all of us are not guaranteed. So while things don’t have to be perfect, I want them to go well.
A few years ago as the holidays would wind down and as the kids would go back to their respective places in January, I would feel a significant letdown. I’d feel sadness that my kids were gone again and also sadness that it didn’t go as well as I thought it should. One kid would express disappointment that something didn’t happen while they were home, and, while they probably mentioned it and forgot, I kept thinking about it. I added a list of “shoulds” for the holidays and made myself miserable.
I decided that I need to let that sh*t go.
Here is what works for me:
First, I have learned that even though our time together is short I shouldn’t panic if things don’t go the way I imagined. During Thanksgiving break my adult kids spent a ridiculous amount of time alone in their rooms rather than hanging out with me (which I do not get because I’m SUPER fun). And then I realized that two of them live in busy dorms and maybe a long weekend of being left alone is what they needed before they went back to school to get ready for finals.
Secondly, I keep notes on my phone in order to check in on other people’s expectations. At the end of last winter break I polled the family on what was the best and what didn’t matter. At Thanksgiving I gathered them all for a 5 minute check in and read what I had written the previous year. By doing this I had clear communication and had a deeper understanding of how low their expectations really were. Turns out they don’t want me to make so many Christmas cookies but they love the cinnamon rolls we have on Christmas morning. They expect Dad to cook out on the grill a few times and to have a game night as a family. That was IT. Not only did they have a chance to weigh in on what happened, I was off the hook for things they no longer wanted (keeping up only because we “always” do something is not a reason to keep doing it). If I chose to make the effort, it was more for me than for them, and that I was okay with.
Finally, I let it go when, even when I had talked to them about it a month before, they were no longer interested in doing something. Spontaneity is still important after all, especially during a pandemic.
And then this year, surprise, surprise, the very day that all of my kids came home for winter break, one of them started to have symptoms. Two days later, five out of eight of us had Covid. Gone were the plans to see either side of our extended family. Gone was the zoo lights (a possible new tradition) or even having a nice Christmas dinner. We were too sick to care on Christmas day. We had frozen pizza and went to bed early.
The upside of all of this was an opportunity to spend (lots of) time together. There was none of the usual chaos, running place to place. Instead, we made the best of a tough couple of weeks with trips to the empty dog park, watching lots of movies and video games. The big kids did some of the cooking and playing with the littles while my husband and I limped along. We also had so many people reach out and drop off meals, groceries, and LOTS of treats. Normally the big kids ditch us for NYE, but this year, we were together playing cards. While we didn’t all make it to midnight, we still had a really nice night at home together.
Next Christmas we won’t be repeating most of what we did, but having this experience has helped me readjust expectations for days that rely on tradition. The most important thing was, we were all together and because we were all vaccinated, we stayed out of the hospital and were recovered in time for everyone to go back to school.