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.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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