In 1977, when my youngest was 2 years old, I took a psychology class that hit me right smack dab inside my perfect parenting prejudices. I had them! Too many shoulds I believed I should live up to. Parents should do this and that. And if you do this or that, your child will grow healthy, happy, and successful in life.
This professor discussed the history of parenting opinions. We talked about how people in different times and places thought and felt about being parents, what a parent’s job was, and what society’s advice to parents was during each historical period. No matter when it was, these recommendations inevitably led to parents feeling g u i l t y.
Which brings me to Christmas, a time of joy and guilt.
I watch Christmas movies. I love them. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, I ration myself to one video per day. I record them and space them throughout the holiday season. These movies give me a lot of joy and hope. Even the villain or antagonist in the film can and often finds redemption.
Still, Christmas movies can be dangerous. They are typical of the unrealistic parenting expectations for a perfect holiday. And they create guilt for parents making you think you should produce this and that ideal holiday for your children. But movies are fiction. And families are real life.
Here are six examples:
1. Diet. Everyone in the movies bakes fancy Christmas cookies with their children, creates high fat and high-calorie meals for their family, gives their children stunning candy canes, makes beautifully decorated gingerbread houses, and on and on. Some parents are on special diets for heart disease, diabetes, Crohn's disease, or obesity. What do you do about your expectations for yourself and your children’s expectations for you?
2. Money. Characters in the movies live in homes decorated with possessions well beyond the financial abilities of most average families. They have beautiful Christmas decorations and a massive pile of presents under an exquisite tree. This, too, can be problematic when you develop expectations you cannot meet without harming your family budget.
3. Time. In one two-hour movie, people accomplish tasks that might take an average person months. People become exhausted trying to create the perfect Christmas for their kids, only to become too fatigued to enjoy themselves with their family.
4. Alcohol. Holidays are always a problem for people in recovery from addictions. Alcohol is prevalent. People drink socially and in moderation in Christmas movies, but alcoholics simply cannot do that. A social drink leads to a binge with sometimes horrific consequences.
5. Grief and loss. Joyous holidays often remind us of the missing spaces left by those who’ve moved on. Most Christmas movies solve this with lots of other relatives and friends who genuinely care about the hero in the film. Not everyone in today’s life has resources like that. Here again, we run into expectations. It’s important to allow room for you to be who you are and feel how you feel.
6. Family Relationships. I love what the movies do with strained and broken family relationships the most. It gives me hope. Yet, I absolutely know not all families are willing to be healed. And that you can only repair your heart. You cannot count on anyone else being willing to grow with you.
So, what do we do with our diets, time, money and alcohol restrictions, grief, loss and family problems? Or other expectations I didn’t mention.
Instead of Christmas parenting advice that says do this or that to be a good parent I’ll ask you to think about your own values. Go through the list of potential problems then add your own. Ask yourself the following questions.
• What are your deepest held values regarding the holiday season?
• What do you want to teach your children about Christmas?
• What is important to you concerning each potential problem on Christmas?
• What is reasonable for you to take from the beautiful pictures of Christmas everywhere and bring into your life?
In each of these areas of life, think about what’s important to you and create realistic expectations for yourself and your family.
My parenting advice is that no one is a perfect parent. And that being true to yourself is more important than following someone else’s opinion or image of a classic Christmas experience for your family.
This has been a brief column on parenting during holidays in your household. If you want more help with this, write me with questions you’d like me to answer. I can always write another column to answer questions.
If you’d like more help, please call my office to make an appointment for Parent Coaching at (615) 464-3791. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation to assess if I can be helpful to you or your child.
I’d love to hear from you!