Ah yes, holidays with kids. As a parent, it's sometimes hard to remember what life was like before kids. The free time that you had, maybe a hobby that you loved. For many of us, it's gone from a full expanse of empty time ahead and me asking my husband, "Gee what should we do this weekend?" to a hurried pep talk of "OK, you take W to his soccer game, I'll take X to his music class, then we're picking up Y from his play date two towns over, oh and then, we've got that birthday party for Z and I think it's a sleepover. I need to find the gift I bought." It's divide and conquer with little time to breathe on the best days!
Holidays are no different. I recall leisurely unpacking my very breakable Christmas ornaments with a glass of wine in hand and Christmas music playing in the background, while my well-rested husband stoked the fire. Now, most of my ornaments are unbreakable, I can't hear any music over the din of bickering and screams from my four kids, and forget about a fire in the fireplace! Are you kidding? It's too dangerous!
How about that family holiday card photo? Forget about it! Once you have kids, it's impossible for everyone to look at the camera at the same time with eyes open and every kid sporting a relatively decent expression. Someone is either scowling, looking the wrong way, bickering or having a tantrum. For our first Christmas card with our twins, my husband and I took about a hundred photos of our two boys until we finally gave up and photoshopped our son's head from one photo onto his body in another because we couldn't get both boys to look at the camera and smile at the same time. No one knew what we did, and it appeared that we had achieved that perfect picture. Little did they know it was all smoke and mirrors (as is the case with any "picture perfect" holiday family card or event).
Trust me on this. For every perfect family holiday event or outing you see on Facebook, there is often much more to the story!
A friend called me one day during the holidays and said, "I need to lower my expectations about holiday things." When I asked her what she meant, she said, "I mean holidays with kids. I thought stringing popcorn would be fun to do with the kids and it would accomplish something that I wanted to put on our Christmas tree."
Unbeknownst to her, as she was stringing the popcorn, one of her young sons was sitting underneath the table at the other end of the string eating the popcorn as fast as she and her older son could string it! Sound familiar?
I, too, have lowered my expectations. Every year, I live in the hope that we will have a fun time decorating the tree. Um, wrong! There are fights over who gets to put what ornament where, how many ornaments each child has gotten to hang, or some combination of both. I start out very patient, but by the end, I've pretty much had it. The festive music playing in the background always leaves me to wondering: Why is it so hard?
We all have the expectation and desire to do something fun like bake cookies with the kids or make a gingerbread house, but the expectation that things will go smoothly is problematic. I think of how much fun we'll have bonding and drinking hot cocoa, but the reality is someone burns their mouth and/or the cocoa spills all over the counter.
I have temporarily stopped attempting to make gingerbread houses, even the kits, because they never turn out the way they are supposed to which disappoints the kids. For some reason, ours always collapse into a mess of frosting, candy, and gingerbread. The kids enjoy the process, but we've had more than a few tantrums when that one last green jelly placed on the top of the roof causes the whole thing to collapse into a mess. So instead, we've chosen other fun food things that don't require a degree in architecture.
It isn't all doom and gloom. That wise statement my friend said of lowering expectations is so key. If your gingerbread house looks like a wrecking ball hit it, that's OK! It still tastes great, and now you won't feel guilty eating such a beautiful creation because it is not beautiful.
It's being together that matters. Happy holidays!