Nov 132012

I never give parenting advice, for obvious reasons. This comes as a disappointment to folks who find this blog hoping it’s called “Mom-mastery.” As in MASTERING MOTHERHOOD. Oh, God. It makes me shudder every time that’s said, and it’s said a lot. We don’t master motherhood here. I really don’t think that’s possible. I like the quote that there is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one. I think that’s about right.

Also, I would like to publicly state my secret opinion that it is a BAD PARENT thing to do to try to be a PERFECT PARENT. Because our kids might grow up to be parents. And they will likely compare their parenting to how we parented them. And if they are under the impression that we were “perfect,” their parent guilt will be through the roof and will likely need even more pills and therapy and financially irresponsible trips to Home Goods than we do. And so I think it is a GOOD PARENT strategy to let your imperfect flag fly and make lots of mistakes and relax a little too much, so that our kids have a lot of room for improvement. So that eventually they will feel GOOD about themselves as parents. Don’t steal their future thunder, is all I’m saying. Take a load off, for THEM, and their future credit card bills.

NOW, welcome to the one time a year when I DO offer an idea about parenting. It’s just about the one little family system we use that actually works consistently for us. It’s about the holidays, and how to keep the time between Thanksgiving and the December holiday you celebrate holy instead of holy hell.

Here’s how it goes for us.  About two weeks before Thanksgiving, the first “Christmas toy catalog” accidentally finds its way into the house and all the kids get the GIMMES. Suddenly, they “want/need/must have” many things that they were blissfully unaware they needed the moment before they saw the catalog. I sympathize with this situation, since it is the story of my life.

For most of the year- I find myself thinking I’m doing all right generally, but then I see a J Crew or Pottery barn catalog and I immediately feel like a shabby piece of crap. It becomes crystal and relentlessly clear that the only thing that will restore me to wholeness is a new slipcover or neon yellow scarf. It’s ridiculous, but true. The catalogs are the bosses of us. They tell us we are less than, so we need to buy more. They promise us happiness, but they lie. Trust me, I KNOW they lie. I have bought almost ALL of their happiness and it only lasts for about twenty minutes because they keep CHANGING the definition of happiness every month (Skinny jeans! NOT SKINNY JEANS,  WIDE LEG JEANS YOU SHABBY PIECE OF CRAP! UGH, NOT WIDE LEG JEANS, BOOT CUT JEANS, YOU MORON!)  and so it’s really a hamster wheel aimed to distract us from things that might actually make us happy and ending in ickiness and bankruptcy and frankly, way too many pair of jeans. Especially for someone who only wears yoga pants. It’s ALMOST like these companies are not even WORRIED about our happiness. It’s almost like what they really care about is tricking us into giving them all our money. I know. CAN’T BE. But it sure feels that way sometimes.

Even if we can’t stay off all year- the holidays are a great time to practice jumping off the consumer hamster wheel. To shut it all off and down and look at our blessings, right in the face. To make room in our lives and our hearts and the Inn for God to come. I think she tries to come, but when she knocks we are off at the mall.

So here’s what we Meltons do. A week or so before Thanksgiving, we have the kids write their “lists.” They are pretty short at this point in the season, because the barrage of ads hasn’t started so they haven’t been TOLD yet what they want and need. They actually have to think about it. Here is Tish’s list.



You will notice that Tish has asked for both a Bible and a pagan. I am not sure what her plans are for the pagan. I’d like to think she’s just spiritually adventurous, like I am, and wants to learn from all types. But Tish is unpredictable, so Craig and I both fear that she might try to sacrifice or evangelize the poor pagan, so we’re going to leave him out of it. No pagan for Tish. See, as parents we get to say no to whatever we want to on the list, so that’s good.

Craig and I choose three things from each kid’s list and order them right away, before Thanksgiving. Three gifts for Jesus, three for each kid. We haven’t gotten any complaints about the number of gifts yet, but if we do, we’re prepared with our, “SO YOU THINK YOU DESERVE MORE GIFTS THAN GOD?” speech. If you are Buddhist or one of Tish’s pagans or Jewish etc, etc., I’m sure the limited amount of gifts idea will work for you, too – because I don’t know any spiritual tradition that teaches that more crap from Toys R Us will bring lasting joy. After we choose our three gifts, we send the rest of the list to extended family so they don’t have to think too hard. (Sister- good luck finding the pagan!)

Here’s what happens because of this plan. We don’t shop in December. We’re done. The kids don’t react with the GIMMES to the barrage of December advertisements, because they know Santa already has their list and that’s that. The month of December becomes about time together. We usually end up doing some sort of small service project that we wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. We don’t go to the mall. We watch Christmas specials and bake cookies which we immediately throw away because they are always disgusting since baking is rocket science.  I don’t feel stressed and exhausted and bitter by Christmas morning. We focus a little more on what we already have – each other – than what we don’t have and don’t need – anything else.

It’s just an idea. As Rumi says- there are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.





Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  241 Responses to “Mastering the Mom”

  1. I was scrolling through your blog on a tough day and the bible and pagan part of this post totally cracked me up. This just made my afternoon. Thank you.

    I also absolutely love this concept. Consumerism is hard to resist sometimes but when we look around we already have SO much.

  2. […] And if you are still not sure what to do check out Momastery – Mastering the Mom. […]

  3. […] Momastery – Mastering the Mom  has a great suggestion. […]

  4. […] other day while surfing the net, this caught my eye. A little careful planning can save you from a ton of […]

  5. Wow. What a fantastic idea!

    I don’t have any children yet, but I can see how your plan eliminates much of the craziness that other households experience.

  6. […] I read Glennon’s post over at Momastery where she mentioned that her kids get three gifts for Christmas. Jesus got three gifts so her kids get three gifts. She doesn’t want them to lose the meaning […]

  7. Sorry if someone already said this…but my 2nd grade teacher brain went into overdrive. :)

    Does Tish actually want a penguin? I was just wondering! :) Happy Christmas!

  8. G, i love that Tishy has “pegan ” on her Christmas list… Because, as all of the Monks will remember, she does “love to sin” (or sing, if spelling counts). Much love to you over the holiday season… Mrs.B and Mrs. L..– Ashburn

  9. […] Momastery – Mastering the Mom  has a great suggestion. […]

  10. Love this idea. My oldest, 14, asks for the stars, sun and moon each year for Christmas and her birthday. I don’t know where she inherited the “gimme expensive gifts” gene from, since my husband and I don’t spend a lot of money on ourselves (not like we have it any way with four kids!) I sat my two oldest down and talked to them about doing something to help out another family this year for Christmas and I was shocked at their reactions. Things like “Is this coming out of my Christmas gifts” were said. My heart was so heavy. How can I possibly have raised such selfish kids?! Little do they know that this Christmas, they are going to receive an eye-opening experience. Just got to figure out what that experience is going to be!

  11. Thanks so much for the idea! I did this with my kids last night and they were so good about it! They are used to cutting up all the ads and plastering them on poster board. Literally an entire poster full of crap they think they need. It’s ridiculous. I never know what they really truly want. I thought they’d fight this new approach, but they didn’t at all! We then decided to make a list of who they wanted to make gifts for. It was a beautiful thing!

  12. Love the idea of makings list before the barrage of catalogs and commercials hits our house. The kids start making their lists and little one asks, “what do you mean to think through this good cuz we won’t get to add to it?” I explain and then after some groans husband steps in with, “Don’t worry, girls. Mommy read something on Facebook and thinks it’s the best new idea. Don’t worry, everything will be back to normal next year.” Ha! Just got my motivation to stick with a new idea!

  13. I addition to the wonderful message of the post, I’m just happy to hear I’m not the only one who initially thought it was “Mom Mastery.” Now I don’t feel like such an idiot… lol

  14. Awesome, awesome, awesome! We’re pretty much done buying for the year for our two under two. Try to keep it simple since they’re young. I LOVE the idea of teaching them not to have the “GIMMIES.” I wasn’t so grand at that as a kid. But this post has me brainstorming!!! Your list, G, before Thanksgiving and then on Thanksgiving talk about the things we’re thankful for and how some kids aren’t so lucky and wouldn’t it be nice to put a smile on another kid’s face? So let’s look through our clothes and toys and see what we could pass along to spread the happy. Then closer to Christmas we send it off all smothered in hugs and kisses to warm up some little whipper snapper’s heart, body and soul. Happy birthday, baby Jesus!!! NOW. If only I can remember this amazing idea in the years to come when it’ll be effective… Where’d I put that… thing…?

  15. I love this post. I am hosting an Advent series this year entitled Let Us Wait as Children Wait. Getting children to chose their gifts early would really free up time during Advent to really enter into the meaning of the season and help them to wait with real expectancy and excitement.

  16. Tish rocks.

  17. I didn’t make it all the way through the comments, so maybe someone already said this, but maybe when Tish asked for a pagan what she meant was she wants a little faith, common ground, and a Dar Williams cd. Cause she’s kind of a wise little monkee, and it seems like that’s what we’ve been doing here: faith and common ground. And it’s a very Christmas-y/ Solstice-y/ burnt baked goods song. Love.

    “Finding faith and common ground the best that they are able… Sending hope for peace on earth to all the Gods and Goddesses..” -from the song the Christians and the Pagans by Dar Williams.

    • Oh my gosh, Margaret…haven’t thought of that song in forever. xoxoxo

    • I thought instantly of this song when I saw ‘pagan’ on Tish’s wish list, too! Great tune. Fantastic lyrics. Makes me smile knowing there are other Monkees out there who know and like it. :)

      “…and it seems like that’s what we’ve been doing here: faith and common ground.” So true. Love that string of words. And don’t you think ‘Faith and Common Ground’ would be a great name for a funky, community oriented, eco-friendly coffee shop? I’d go there for my java!

  18. Okay. I love the “do not want” list! I thought pagen was maybe pigeon, but she clearly stated she did not want a bird!

  19. G – we have done the 3 gift thing with our kids for the last 10 years…
    1.Something they WANT,
    2.Something they NEED,
    3.and something WE want them to have.

    We just always felt like we needed to reel in the craziness and remember what and why are family was celebrating…

  20. LMAO! Love the Pagan and the Bible. What a smart child!!!! I don’t even know if my sons have figured out anything religious yet. I, like you, want them to come to their own terms and choices about it, not just follow blindly. I dread Christmas and the holidays. It’s never the same after you grow up.

  21. Holy crap this is an AMAZING IDEA. I never really thought about it that way but I think my parents used to do something similar. My mom and dad used to get most of their shopping done really early. And ever now, my mom wants a list from me and my husband by October. Some things she has to get later because they haven’t come out yet but I’d say she’s usually done with shopping by Thanksgiving.

    If/when we have kids, I’m going to have to remember this idea. It’s great!

  22. Ok I’m down with this!! I have 4 kids and I have to admit the last few years I’m just wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this. It seems like we are way too focused on ourselves at Christmas when shouldn’t that be the opposite? I am going to take your idea and run with it. I’ve also thought about using what we would have spent on the excessive amount of gifts and buying things for homeless kids instead. This is great for me to think about and thanks for sharing!

  23. Along the lines of the want need wear read, I used to do 3 gifts mind, body, and soul for my husband. Mind was a book or puzzle, something intellectual. Body was clothes, accessories, a foot bath one year. Soul was usually something art or music related, a cd, sheet music, concert tickets. Poor thing now just gets a stocking.

  24. Glennon, you never disappoint in your posts. This one in particular had me unblinded tears I was laughing so hard. Thanks for the positive spin to start my day. I’d love to help you bake sometime.
    – Kimberly the Rocket scientist

  25. I liked your idea last year and that’s my plan this year! Here’s another great post on taking the non-essential out of Christmas.

  26. If Tish reaaalllllyyy wants a Pagan, I’m available to Skype or email, and disappoint her by saying we think everyone should believe whatever works for them as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. And to talk about nature and the changing of the seasons, and the longest night of the year and how excited we are when the sun comes back again. But I totally get it if you don’t want her to have a pagan this year. 😀

  27. My oldest is 4 – so when the TRU book came I had him look thru and circle what he wanted – he also picked things out for his 1 yr old sister. I then asked him if he could only have ONE gift which one would it be – I ran out and bought and wrapped it that night. I also got him a shirt, a board game, and some legos. I am done shopping and it feels so good!
    I also told him if he wanted new toys we had to get rid of old toys – so we went in the playroom and he picked out things we could give to other children who didnt have toys.
    Now I can relax and enjoy the holidays =)

  28. These ideas are fantastic. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially because my kids are starting to enter the preteen expensive but smaller gift era. I explained to the youngest that this year Santa will probably be bringing less toys to our house because the elves will be so busy making toys for the kids who lost everything from Hurricane Sandy. I got the ball rolling for being thankful for what we have, we shall see, it’s only November.

  29. Wow, Glennon! Love, love, love this.

  30. So, can you elaborate on the three gifts for Jesus? I am intrigued. Do you buy gifts to donate, or is it something else? I’d love to hear more about this because I LOVE this idea.

    • Hi Christine, I was confused too at first! 😉 but she means gold, frankincense and mihrr, the gifts the three wise men brought when they first met Jesus.

  31. Glennon, I really hope you’re still reading comments for this terrific (as always) post. A few years ago, this TV ad was run to bring a message to prospective foster parents. I had recorded whatever program it aired during, and I saved the recording so that I could show the ad to anyone I thought would appreciate it. All these years later, I still get a kick out of it. Even though it’s chuckle-worthy, the message is perfect. It’s worth repeat viewings: I hope you, or any other readers, enjoy.

  32. Oh my gosh. There was so much goodness in this post. Yet, I can’t respond to it properly, because I’m too busy laughing (belly laughing) about the pagan.

  33. We too do the 3 gifts – wrapped under the tree from us.
    Then in their stocking from Santa, a small $10-15 gift plus candies/treats.
    On St Nicholas day – chocolate gold coins and an ornament

  34. Loved this post. And I am all about simplifying during this time of year. I always want to teach my kids gratefulness and thanksgiving for all God has done for our family.

    But that comment about the string cheese in the stocking…WOW. I don’t want that Santa visiting our house.

  35. Thanks again for bringing perspective back to what this time of year is really about and I love your ideas. Also totaly agree with the Perfect Parent comments – trying really hard to just be a great parent and that my children remember the love and fun we have together. Also, thanks to the responses to my earlier post about my learning of my husband’s affair on Sunday. We were already in counseling but know there is a long, brutal road ahead for us. I feel stronger already just reading comments posted here and know that I am not alone.

  36. We tend to stick to this:

    Something you Want, Something you Need
    Something to Wear, and Something to Read.

    Then their stocking gets socks, undies, and snacks they like that we don’t usually buy, like cheese strings.

    • Love, love , LOVE the basic 4: thanks for your gentle reminders. You are one awesome babe. A grandmother, (MamaPat…Pat/Pat) of 2 + 2 more in the new year!

  37. love this suggestion and am planning to implement it today!
    @ Lora in Florida: Santa never wrapped when we were kids–he was too busy getting to all the children around the world. Now that I’m a parent, he still doesn’t wrap, and it’s because he doesn’t like to waste paper!

    • Never, ever, thought of not wrapping until a friend asked me why I wrapped. I was flabbergasted at the thought of not…but the more I think about it the more I like it. SOOOOO should Santa just not wrap? Or should he send me an email (like he does for most of our communications).

    • Santa didn’t wrap when we were growing up. Anything he left for you, including your stocking was fair game and did not require parental presence to play with. Your stocking had an orange and nuts which were breakfast and had to be consumed before the chocolates. This bought my poor parents a good hour more sleep. Smart mother.

  38. That’s exactly how I feel about those darn catalogs!! Athleta is the one that does me in!! Love your idea of 3 gifts and getting the shopping done early. After last Christmas I made a mental note to do the same. A lot of us must be in the same boat : )

  39. You’ve started my morning off on a cheery note. ……pagan…….hehehehehee…….

  40. So curious how you do the Santa thing – do you do an extra three gifts from him too?

  41. For the past two years, I have HATED December, which is sad, because I love Christmas. Last year, I read about this idea of yours, and decided to try it for this year because I want to love December again and not just feel crazy and frazzled. I am already loving it! I am almost done shopping for my kids, and that is such a load off! (we have a money limit so they don’t get too many presents) Thank you a million times for sharing this plan. I am so looking forward to having a nice, calm, Christ- and family-centered holiday season this year–exactly how it should be. Or, at the very least, when everyone gets strep throat (or something else crappy, which always seems to happen at Christmas time) I can focus on taking care of them without stressing about all the stuff I still need to do.

  42. I’m curious ideas for your 3 gifts to Jesus (besides wine :). I love the idea and concept. thank you for sharing!

  43. My fiance and I have decided to do some sort of charity thing instead of gifts for each other this year. Possibly the Holiday Hands if there is anything left by the time we get our acts together. Or, if not, we were thinking of going to the Camelia Network website and do our “Christmas shopping” there to pick out things for foster kids as substitutes for buying each other gifts. We don’t have kids yet…but I am thinking maybe when we do we could convince them to join in on this plan with us, especially if that is all they ever know…ha ha. I know, I know…spoken like a truly optimistic non-parent right? Lol. But we can dream…what better way to teach them that Christmas really is a time of giving and not just receiving??

  44. “Also, I would like to publicly state my secret opinion that it is a BAD PARENT thing to do to try to be a PERFECT PARENT.”
    Thank you. I need to be reminded of this frequently… ok… constantly. So thank you.

  45. We do the opposite – absolutely no Christmas shopping or tree until the 20th (let’s not talk about the year that a freak blizzard shut down the stores on that weekend – suffice it to say that Amazon 2-day shipping is my friend). We do cookies and parties throughout December, of course, and enjoy them immensely because we aren’t trying to shop.

    And here is the beauty of the plan (at least, why it works for me): shopping at the last minute removes the pressure to find the perfect gifts. We just grab whatever is there that looks decent and head home to wrap it. Back when I tried to get my shopping done early, it felt as if Christmas lasted too long and I was always trying to find the perfect present for everyone. Last year? Everyone got Moose Munch and was perfectly happy.

    I started this plan because I remembered how much fun Christmas used to be in college, where we didn’t even think about it until after our finals were done.

  46. Great idea. Simple plans are the best.

  47. love. this.

  48. AMEN to parent(s) who don’t over-indulge their kids with so much crap! Where does it end? Kids today getting $100 – $200 gifts? That’s just CRAZY!

    Too many people trying to “keep up with the Joneses!”

    I think “scaling back with the Melton’s” is a MUCH better idea! 😉

  49. I try like hell to keep the catalogs and tv commercials out. The daycare actually sent a Christmas flyer home with one of the girls and she was excited because she thought it was her own special magazine. I asked what she wanted and she told me five card games. And I thanked God for simple.

  50. I love the line “spiritually adventurous” – *hugs*

  51. Love this!

  52. Great idea! As a former teacher, I immediately read “pigeon” and thought she’s funny, asking for pigeons but also saying she doesn’t want a bird. Or legos. Lol I could picture my kids saying, “no more legos!”

  53. Love the ideas! Oh yeah, are you sure she isn’t asking for a pigeon?

  54. Wow, what a wonderful idea! I don’t have kids yet, but you can bet I’ll be passing this on to my sister and her husband (this will be their daughter’s first Christmas) and tucking this idea away for us for the future!

  55. […] I have posted wise thoughts from Glennon before and found a few more that I thought I would share.  I absolutely love this season, and love it the most since having kids.  Yes, having Connor on […]

  56. […] much as I’d like to think otherwise, I am far from perfect. Like Gellon at the Momastery points out, “there is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one,” and […]

  57. We have actually done this for the past 5 years. (We stole the idea from a friend. It was not an original thought.) It has worked well for us. It has simplified the “list”. Stockings don’t count and the other “wants” are given to family. It is a win-win. We are still working on getting the lists done in November. I admire you for that part. I cannot seem to get it done! As always, lots of room to grow! Love to you, Glennon, and your family!

  58. Thanks for this great idea! I absolutely love it! Thank you for always making me laugh and usually cry all in the same post. I love this blog, love this community and love you! I was with girlfriends last night and they were talking about the ugliness they see in people around them. I just said “girls I just gotta stay away from all that ugliness and read my momastery blog and get happy. Too much goodness in the world to let that ugliness get you down.” God bless you Glennon. I am praying for you and your family.

  59. 3 gifts and a stuffed stocking…does that count? Also thinking that Santa might have to go GREEN this year, and not wrap presents. Do you think that will fly?

    • I love the green idea – back in my 20s, my friends and I made our gifts and wrapped them in a cloth (dishtowel, etc.) or a piece of fabric we knew the other would use. We tied it with raffia or a reusable ribbon. Or maybe you can use paper bags? My husband loves to do that and to wrap gifts in newspaper. Cracks me up!

  60. This Buddhist so loves your idea! I will certainly use it to bring more quietude to our holiday season.

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