The holidays are supposed to evoke feelings of warmth, comfort, joy and happiness. For my family Christmas has always been steeped in tradition. We would do the same thing year after year and I often recall it as memorable and wonderful and everything I could have imagined as a kid.
When I had children I wanted the same amazing Christmas experience for them, and in my mind that meant continuing to do the same as I had done in my childhood. Logic told me if I followed the same activities I could expect the same outcome, makes sense right? Each year I did just that and didn’t get the outcome I was expecting from my children, yet I continued on the same path year after year. I had officially moved from logic to the insanity definition-continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Yup that was me, year after year.
Last week, in the midst of all the Christmas celebrations going on, I attended an RTC graduation for one of my sons friends. I sat and glowed at the progress this one young man in particular had made. He held a special place in my heart from the first day I met him, he reminded me of me when I was young. And after the ceremony was over his Dad and I had an opportunity to catch up and look at what the last year had brought to our families and us as individuals.
And very much like Christmas traditions I just mentioned, we discussed the traditions of raising children. Basically as parents we learned to parent from our parents, and so on and so on. For generations following the template that preceded us, and it really seemed to work. And with that, we always wanted more for our children than we had. Our reward for parenting was to see our children live better lives than we did.
However after the long journey both of our families have been on, we both acknowledged that the current bracket of teens aren’t following the “tradition” the way we expected them to.
You see as parents, we didn’t know any other way, I often joke that the parent manual I was given wasn’t updated for my kids generation. We knew that our way was the right way. Our thinking was the correct thinking, and we were going to instill that in our offspring, and often it worked. Well sometimes it doesn’t, but damn that, I was going to follow my traditions. But then I realized I have now waded into the insanity waters.
As our discussion continued we both realized that our families did great jobs, and we were just trying to honor them in following the same path. However what we didn’t take into consideration is that our standards, ideas, and rules, were based on a different societal norms, and most importantly on our possibly flawed thinking that: 1. Our way was the only way 2. It was the right way and 3. Kids today are the same as kids of yesteryear. Yeah, I don’t think so.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact I was wrong. As shifting my mindset felt very much to me like I was abandoning not only my ideals but my family traditions. Simply said, sticking to “traditions” are amazing and wonderful, but as Kenny Rodgers would say, you need to “Know when to fold them”.
Both this dad and I realized that the true strength and wisdom comes from recognizing that there are multiple paths to the desired outcome. I realized it doesn’t always have to be my “right” way; there are other “right” ways and being open to new “traditions” or modifying old can be the link to the closer relationship I was seeking with the people in my life.
Back to my children and Christmas. I was still on the insanity path of forcing upon my children the Christmas I had in my youth. The reality is my kids never fit into the mold of my Christmas version. I love my family and I wanted my children to feel the excitement and happiness that I recalled in Christmas’ of my youth. I loved all the people coming to my house when I was young, I thrived on the more the merrier, the loudness and chaos, every time the doorbell rang I ran to get it. Looking back I think I was also thinking that every person who came to the door had a gift for me as well.
My children were never like that. They were uncomfortable around larger groups of people, even if they were family, and they didn’t like all the activity. I will say they did like the gifts people brought, but hey what kid wouldn’t.
Christmas mornings were good and every year I would make Pillsbury biscuits to eat while we opened stockings. And then like clockwork it ended with a huge thud as I made the announcement it was time to get ready to go over my parents house. And don’t get me wrong, my kids liked my parents, but for them the traditions were too “much” and caused stress and anxiety for them and in turn caused me to be “crazy” And the cycle of the day began. They got more stressed, I got crazier, etc etc.
So each year the Christmas day war would commence around 11 am in my house in anticipation of trying to get in the car for 12:30pm. This included me explaining for the 100th time that it is Christmas and we spend Christmas with our family, and why I wanted them to look nice, blah blah blah. We would get into the car and then I would spend the entire ride in lecture mode reminding them to “be social-able” and adding in about a dozen other instructions.
By the time we got to my mother’s house we rolled out of the car with moods and attitudes that could have rivaled Scrooge. Let’s just say we didn’t hide it well and when we walked in the door the first question was often, What’s wrong? I would wave it away, feeling angry that my family just suck it up for one freakin day. My kids would then hole away in some part of the house by themselves, causing family to question, Why don’t they socialize? And every time someone said something a new wave of shame washed over me. Often by the end of the night I was exhausted by the mental mambo of shame and disgust that I had dancing in my head for the last 5 hours.
I never ever ever considered anything but Christmas at my parents house, despite it wasn’t joyful for us. I was too stuck in the tradition to even question it. And I only really thought about all the feeling associated with it last year when we chose to spend Christmas in Utah supporting our son who was in residential treatment at the time.
So instead of an extended family Christmas in New Jersey, Christmas was spent with just the four of us. We shared a room in the Hampton Inn in a small town in Utah. There were less presents, there was no tree, no decorating, no stockings, and no extended family. This was the furthest thing from any previous Christmas I had experienced. At first I was a bit sad for myself and then as the day wore on I realized it was one of the best Christmas’ my kids had ever had, and in turn it was one of my best with them as well.
Christmas had to look different, we had no choice. Ironically the only “missed” tradition were the biscuits, which funny enough was one of the easiest. The lack of being able to do certain things allowed made us explore new things; like all my men dressing in light-up Christmas pajamas, very tacky maybe, but very funny with tons of smiles. And our sons delivered us breakfast in bed from the hotel buffet.
We opened gifts and savored them so much more than in years past, as much thought had to be put into them because of the restrictions of travel, packing, and school rules. We laughed and smiled, and of course missed our family home in New Jersey. This was a practical lesson me learning and understanding in having to make choices and finding compromise in all situations, including both Christmas and parenting. Who would have thought that Christmas was going to teach me a parenting lesson? Not me for sure.
So now we are on the cusp of our second Christmas in Utah, but this year we are in our new home. I don’t feel the pressure to replicate the Christmas of my childhood, even though I can. We are creating the Christmas of my children’s childhood. The tree is up and decorated, the stockings are hung, the gifts have been bought and all of this without stress and strain.
We are choosing to celebrate in new ways. I will not even call them traditions, as who knows how we will spend it next year. This year Christmas Eve is going to be in Salt Lake City touring the grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and looking at the light displays, followed by a nice Italian dinner. Simple yet good for us.
Christmas day plans includes Pillsbury biscuits while we open stockings, (couldn’t give up that one, as we all love it). We do not plan to leave the house, so there is a thumbs up to spending the entire Christmas day in pajamas. We are going to hang out, hopefully play some games, watch Tv, and then eat a simple dinner I cook. All are welcome, but be warned, if you plan on stopping by on Christmas we suggest that you throw on your pajamas so you don’t feel over-dressed.
Traditions are legacies that connect generations and they are beautiful. I never want to abandon the essence of them, but me it is time to review some of the assoicated activities and make sure they are serving my family well. I hope your traditions are wonderful and passed down to may generations.
So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or anything else I may have missed. Enjoy your holiday, be well, and Happy New Year. May 2020 be better than you hoped.